At the center of an architectural dynasty that included two architects and one construction company, Francis Blair Hull’s contributions to the architecture of Mississippi and the entire South have been unfortunately almost forgotten in the 90 years since his death. F.B. Hull was the older brother of William S. Hull, possibly the first Mississippian member of the American Institute of Architects. He was also the father of Emmett J. Hull, one of the “founding generation” of Mississippi’s professionalized class of architects. E.J. Hull is perhaps best-known recently as one of the architects in Hull & Malvaney, the firm that designed the Art Deco Eastland Federal Building in Jackson.
To his own generation, though, Francis Blair was the most important Hull, his career representing the growth of the small-time builder and tradesman into a modern and big businessman (a transition we also saw in the post about M.T. Lewman Co). In 1907, when Dunbar Rowland sat down to write his Mississippi, Vol. III: Contemporary Biography, he gave a long entry to contractor Hull, whose firm was at the top of its game, the largest contracting firm in the state and one of the largest in the region. Here’s his entry from page 396 of that volume in full:
Hull, Francis Blair, founder and head of the F.B. Hull Construction Company, of Jackson, one of the best known and most extensive concerns engaged in contracting for public buildings and other public works ever engaged in this line of enterprise in the State. Mr. Hull was born in the city of Jackson, Miss. Aug 17, 1846, and is a son of John T. and Anna M. Blair Hull who were sterling citizens of Mississippi where they continued to reside until their death. Mr. Hull attended the private and public schools of Jackson until there came the call of higher duty with the outbreak of the war between the outbreak of the war between the States all considerations being held secondary to the allegiance owed to the cause of the Confederacy on the part of the loyal citizens of the Southern States. At this climactic period in the history of the nation most of the schools in Mississippi were closed and from them went forth many who were mere boys but whose courage and loyalty were of most ardent nature. Mr. Hull entered the Confederate service in which he continued two years having been a member of that celebrated organization known as the Washington artillery of New Orleans, La. After the war he became a telegraph operator and later was employed as salesman in a general merchandise establishment. On Sept 1, 1874, he opened a lumber yard in Jackson and in the following year began operations as a building contractor initiating his enterprise in this line on a small scale but this laying the foundation for the magnificent business which was later built up and which is now controlled by the company at whose head he stands. In 1876, he admitted his brother William S. to partnership and their contracting business gradually grew in scope and importance and for the past twenty years attention has been devoted entirely to designing and erecting public buildings, chiefly court houses and jails.
In the autumn of 1904, the firm of F.B. & W.S. Hull was dissolved, William S. continuing his labors as an architect and the subject of this review continuing the business which he himself had founded so many years previously. He admitted to partnership his son, Francis B. Jr., and the enterprise has since been conducted under the title of the F.B. Hull Construction Company, the functions of the concern being still confined almost entirely to contracting for public buildings. To this company and the firm it succeeds stands the credit of having erected more than 200 public buildings. Mr. Hull’s technical ability and long experience eminently qualify him for the execution of the highest grade of contracts and his name is voucher for fair and honorable business methods and maximum excellence of workmanship. His company stands on a high plane and represents one of the strong and popular concerns of the State. Mr. Hull is a stanch adherent of the Democratic party, and while he has never sought office he served one term as a member of the board of aldermen and takes a deep interest in the welfare and progress of his home city and State.
The F.B. Hull Construction Company has now sixteen or seventeen public buildings scattered from Missouri to Georgia and has recently closed several office contracts on a commission basis, among the best of these jobs being a $300,000 steel-framed hotel at Alexandria; a $100 000 court house at Franklin; a $20,000 Baptist church; and a $40,000 Presbyterian church at Vicksburg, Miss. They have also finished up a court house at Franklinton, La. that the contractors defaulted on. This company with Mr. F.B. Hull, Sr., as president is the most successful firm in the South engaged in erecting public buildings. They have built more of these houses than any other firm and have had better success with them. Wherever their buildings go up they are standing advertisements for excellent work. Mr. Hull has been for thirty-eight years a Mason, is also a Knight of Pythias, and is a member of the Episcopal church. He was married to Miss Clara Swain Nov. 14, 1860, his wife having died sixteen years ago. To this union were born five children, who are now all grown. Mr. Hull remains a widower.
When this book came out in 1907, ol’ F.B. had probably already proven that last sentence wrong, as he married in June of that year at the age of 61, Isabelle Safell Rogers in San Francisco, California. How he met Ms. Isabelle is unknown, but possibly it was on one of his far-flung business trips. In my recent slow journey through the Vicksburg Post from that period, I find numerous mentions of Mr. Hull passing through town to check on the First Presbyterian Church and Warren County Jail projects his firm was working on, and then heading out to visit other projects.
Probably spurred by his new marriage status, he moved into town from the outskirts, buying what is now known as the Lowry House, which is owned and under renovation by MHT, but was at that time in its original location on Fortification Street. Just down the street from that house was the home of Marie Atkinson, who later became the wife of E.J. Hull and took on her more familiar married name, Marie Hull. The couple, married in 1917, became a dynamic duo in Jackson’s newly energetic artistic scene from the 1920s through the 1950s. It appears that F.B. Hull was the owner who installed the very early Craftsman-style front door on the Lowry House, and in my opinion, the house should be called the Lowry-Hull House since Hull is just as important a historical personage, and more so to the architectural history of the state, as Gov. Lowry.
According to MDAH’s handy new Historic Resources database, whose arrival we announced yesterday, in addition to the Vicksburg buildings noted above, Hull’s firm was responsible for the Tallahatchie County Courthouse and Sharkey County Courthouse (both 1902), the 1907 Noxubee County Jail in Macon, and the George County Courthouse in Lucedale (1911).
Hull died in 1922 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, in a plot with his parents, brothers, and first wife. His obituary noted:
Mr. Hull was a building contractor who identified with big business enterprises throughout the entire south. Though out of the city a great deal of the time in his early career, while actively engaged in business, he still made this city his home and has numerous friends who mourn his death.
(Jackson Daily Clarion Ledger, Nov. 24, 1922, p. 5)