One architect who’s always been a bit of a mystery to me is Harry N. Austin. I should know more about him because he designed some great Classical landmarks around the state, including the Natchez City Hall, Bryant Hall at Ole Miss, and a number of early buildings at Millsaps College in Jackson.
But architects and builders working around the turn of the century aren’t as easy to find information about as those later in the 20th century. It’s a little hit and miss–sometimes you hit the jackpot with a biography in one of the newspapers or reference books of the time, but that’s rare. In the case of Mr. Austin, I hit the jackpot when one of his great-grandsons, Michael Billings, contacted me after reading a post on Preservation in Mississippi, offering to let me scan what we presume is the only picture of the adult Austin. As you can see, the photo is in excellent shape for being a century old, and it shows a man who has got a sense of style, with his patterned tie and suit coat. From this picture, I think you can also spot a man who loves classicism, but with a little flamboyance to it.
Michael also sent me great biographical information about Austin, the kind that rarely turns up in newspaper or scholarly accounts.
Harry North Austin moved from Massachusetts to Jackson with his two daughters (Clara Summerfield Austin, b. 1895, my grandmother, and Rose Austin, b.1892, my great aunt) after the death of his wife, their mother. He then married one of Major Millsaps’ nieces, Mary Buie, who became my grandmother and great aunt’s stepmother. Hence, his involvement with architectural projects at Millsaps College, among the others you mentioned in the post about him.
Besides his work at Millsaps, which I’ll cover in a separate post, Austin designed Bryant Hall, completed in 1911, at Ole Miss. Check out this postcard showing the original rendering for that building, naming Austin as the architect and making sure we know that the roof is covered with asbestos shingles.
The final product is still standing (for comparison, click here), but was shorn of its dome before it even made it off the drawing table apparently. And maybe it’s an optical illusion but it looks like Austin may have originally planned to have the wings coming forward at an angle.
Austin also designed the City Hall for Natchez in 1924, and several houses in Jackson. Two of the houses, designed for Millsaps family member sit side by side across North State Street from Millsaps College, and interestingly, they aren’t the classical temples you might expect after seeing Austin’s public buildings. Instead, they seem to be influenced by Craftsman and even Prairie styles.
I apologize for the glare in some of these pictures. The sun is at that weird angle lately where sometimes you get a great picture and sometimes it’s just too intense to do much good.
I’ll cover Austin’s Millsaps buildings in a separate post maybe next week.
Thanks to Michael Billings and his mother Olis Billings for sharing this picture and helping us flesh out one of our early 20th century architects!