Architect Harry North Austin: Never a Half-Way Man

A while ago, I ran a post in the Pictures Series about Jackson architect Harry North Austin. Thanks to a beautiful photograph preserved and passed down through one of his daughters and shared with us by granddaughter Olis Billings, we were able to catch a glimpse of the man behind buildings such as Ole Miss’ Bryant Hall (1911), Millsaps College’s Murrah Hall (1914), and Natchez City Hall (1924), all great classically inspired buildings.

Thanks to the wonders of ancestry.com, which I broke down and subscribed to a couple years ago, we now can catch a different sort of glimpse of the man, a glimpse through the eyes of his contemporaries through the obituaries that two Jackson newspapers published when he died. Ancestry.com comes into play here because I didn’t have a date for his death, which meant I had no guidance to find an obituary. But through some magical wizardry (honestly, this isn’t an ad for ancestry, but I do find it a very useful subscription), when I started searching for Austin through census records and such, I found that one of the other branches of the Austin family had already built a partial family tree for him, and that tree contained a death date of May 23, 1934. This made my search a simple matter of going to the state archives and finding the right microfilm. As I’ve noted before here on MissPres, obituaries for architects can be frustrating or wonderfully surprising: frustrating when the obit barely mentions the architect’s work and wonderfully surprising when they get effusive about the man’s character (such as we saw in the obituary of William Stanton a few months ago). The obituaries for H.N. Austin fall into the second category for the picture they paint of this man who comes across in the photo above as fairly buttoned down, but in fact was apparently a well-known local “character.”

Read on:

HARRY AUSTIN PASSES
(Jackson Daily News, May 24, 1934, p. 6)

Jackson will sadly miss Harry Austin, well-known architect, who died suddenly Wednesday.
For more than thirty years Harry Austin had been an outstanding figure on the streets of Jackson.
It is rather hard to realize that familiar haunts will see him no more. Somehow or other he seemed permanent, just like the public buildings and thoroughfares, for to thousands of citizens he was indeed a public figure.
Wherever you went, it seemed, Harry was always there, arriving ahead of the crowd, and brimful of either enthusiasm or opposition, for he was never a half-way man.
Whenever Harry Austin went into anything, he literally went in head-over-heels, whole-heartedly and unreservedly. He possessed the rare combination of a sunny nature and battling disposition, often quick to resent but even quicker to forgive.
Yes, Jackson will sadly miss Harry Austin, and sincere is the city’s sorrow over his passing. The Great Architect of the universe will no doubt find need of his services.

HARRY NORTH AUSTIN DIES SUDDENLY HERE YESTERDAY
(Daily Clarion-Ledger, May 24, 1934, p. 10)

Fulfilling a premonition expressed last week by the victim, death struck Harry North Austin, 73, suddenly yesterday and he died at his home at 640 N. State street within a few minutes after talking and laughing with family and friends.

The prominent Jackson architect, a resident of Jackson for more than thirty years, left home yesterday morning apparently in the best of health. While at work Mr. Austin became ill, returned to his home and died suddenly at 2:40 p.m. Last week he expressed the prediction to newspapermen that he had not long to live, pointing to his 73 years when told he hardly appeared that old.

Mr. Austin was a member of the Galloway Memorial Methodist church and for several years was a member of the board of stewards. He was a Scottish Rite Mason and a Shriner, an active worker in the orders. Retaining a keen interest in all forms of sports, he was especially interested in athletic activities of Millsaps college, never missing a game of any kind in the city.

He was formerly one of the original State Hospital Removal commission appointed by Governor Whitfield.

The deceased became affiliated with church activities at the time Gypsy Smith, noted revivalist, held a campaign in Jackson several years ago. Mr. Austin’s sympathy was enlisted and he was one of the leading figures in the “Flying Squadron” which drew the support of Jacksonians and Mississippians in its extensive activity.

Mr. Austin is survived by his widow, who was before marriage Miss Mary Buie, sister of the late W.M. Buie; three sons, Harry Austin, New York City; RalphAustin, Cleveland, Ohio; George Austin, Ft. Wayne, Ind; two daughters, Mrs. Rose Waterer, Gulfport; Mrs. Earl Hutchison, Jackson; one sister, Mrs. J.H. Hurtt, Ridley Park, Penn.; two nephews, Willard and Will Austin, Wilmington, Del., and ten grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held this afternoon at 4 p.m. from the home of Mrs. W.M. Buie at 628 N. State street, with his pastor, Dr. J. Lloyd Decell, officiating. Internment will follow in Cedarlawn cemetery.

Pallbeareres will be J.J. Halbert, Vernon Davis, J.P. Matthews, J. H. Frazier, W.H. Waddell, Clifford Macgowan, W.G. Saurs, John S. Carroll, Dr. Julius Crisler, S.C. Hart, Judge V.J. Stricker, W.E. Pleasants, Walter Byrnes, and D.W. Lumpkin.

The part about Austin joining the church during the Gypsy Smith’s revival in Jackson really piqued my interest. If you’ve read Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, you may remember her perspective on Gypsy Smith and his effect on Jacksonian society.

Gypsy Smith was a real Gypsy; in this may have lain part of his magnetism, though he spoke with sincerity too. He was so persuasive that, as night after night went by, he saved “everybody in Jackson,” saved all the well-known businessmen on Capitol Street. They might well have been churchgoers already, but they never had been saved by Gypsy Smith. While amalgamated Jackson church choirs sang “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” and “Just as I am,” Gypsy Smith called, and being saved–standing up and coming forward–swept Jackson like an epidemic.

Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings (1983), pp. 35-36

Seeing that Mr. Austin was buried in Jackson’s Cedarlawn Cemetery, I made a trip out there and found his grave with the helpful assistance of the City of Jackson staff who work there. Here I found that he is buried next to a young son who died in infancy. His wife, Mary Buie Austin, is apparently not buried there–perhaps there is a Buie plot in the Greenwood Cemetery? Unfortunately, Cedarlawn is particularly beset with heaving from Yazoo clay, which shifts so much that both of these stones have been moved off their bases.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While none of us knew Harry N. Austin personally, it’s amazing how much you can glean from a picture, a couple of obituaries, a grave marker, and of course, his buildings.

Murrah Hall, Millsaps College (built 1914, H.N. Austin, archt.)



Categories: Architectural Research

1 reply

  1. Delightful reading! Thanks for all your great research in bringing this info to us. Great to see the Millsaps Buie home mentioned in the obit. Thank goodness 628 N State is still beautiful and being used as well as Mr. Austin’s work.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: