A while back, I was reading a well-done, glossy history of Hattiesburg’s early neighborhoods, Historic Hattiesburg: History & Architecture of Hattiesburg’s First Neighborhoods (Department of Planning & Community Development, Neighborhood Development Division, City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. n.d.), and I noticed a sidebar about Hattiesburg’s most famous early twentieth century architect, Robert E. Lee. The sidebar mentioned his death date, sending me to the archives to find his obituary. I had always assumed that R.E. Lee was named after the general, but in fact his middle name was Emmett, according to the obit in the Hattiesburg American.
ARCHITECT IS DEAD AT HOME IN THIS CITY
Robert Emmett Lee Succumbs to Stroke of Apoplexy While Chatting With Daughter
Robert Emmett Lee, probably the best known architect in Mississippi, who drew plans for some of the State’s most important structures, is dead at his home in this city.
Death came suddenly shortly after 9 o’clock this morning. Mr. Lee had been ill for some time, and while his condition was serious, it was not believed to be of a fatal nature. Apoplexy was the cause of the death, which followed a stroke of paralysis sometime ago.
Mr. Lee was seated in a chair before a fireplace at his home, 463 Southern Avenue, talking with one of his daughters, when he suddenly toppled over dead.
Mr. Lee’s work will stand as monuments to him for generations. Not only in Hattiesburg, but throughout South Mississippi, are scores of buildings, which he designed, and the construction of which he supervised.
He was 54 years old, and was a native of Meridian. He came here some years ago, and was considered one of the most conscientious and hard working architects the State has yet produced.
All of the schools of the city, both white and colored, the Masonic Temple here, the new City Hall, the First Presbyterian Church, the Main Street Baptist Church, Barron’s headquarters, all of this city; and the hotel and stores at Columbus, built to replace those destroyed by fire a few years ago, were among his important bits of work.
Funeral arrangements await the arrival of relatives, who are due tonight and tomorrow.
He is survived by his wife, three daughters, [illegible on microfilm]
Hattiesburg American, March 2, 1925
Although I have yet to find a photo of Mr. Lee, I did come across this full-page advertisement he placed in the 1906-07 City Directory when he was at the height of his career. The former Hattiesburg Trust & Banking Company, which Lee designed in 1905, still stands and is a contributing structure in the Hub City Historic District.
Historian Dunbar Rowland gives us a much more full picture of Lee’s early career in his entry in Mississippi: Contemporary Biography (1907), p. 451, unfortunately sans photo. Dunbar also mistakenly believed Lee’s middle name was Edward, so at least I wasn’t the only one. Interestingly, while Lee’s obituary says he’s a native of Meridian, this earlier bio makes him a country boy of Winston County and Philadelphia.
Lee, Robert Edward, one of the leading architects of southern Mississippi, has his home and headquarters in Hattiesburg, Perry county, and is known as a man finely educated in his chosen profession, which has to do with the practical and esthetic values exemplified in every community. Mr. Lee was born in Plattsburg, Winston county, Miss., Dec. 29, 1870, and is a son of Thomas J. and Elizabeth P. Quarles Lee, both native of Mississippi and representative of old and honored families of this commonwealth. Thomas Jefferson Lee served with distinction during the Civil war rendering loyal service as a member of a Mississippi regiment and making a record of a faithful and earnest devotion to the cause whose final loss became a matter of history. Robert E. Lee first completed the work of the public schools, being reared in Philadelphia, Neshoba county, and later he attended the Agricultural and Mechanical college at Starkville, Miss., and finally entered the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, where he continued his technical studies bearing upon his chosen profession. After leaving school, he entered the offices of Gustave M. Torgerson, the well known architect at Meridian, Miss., who designed and supervised the construction of the World’s Cotton Centennial Exposition at New Orleans, La., remaining with this able preceptor for a period of four years and thoroughly fortifying himself in all details of the work of his profession. In 1901 he located in Hattiesburg and is now the leading architect of this city where he is held in high esteem in both business and social circles. He is unequivocal in his allegiance to the Democratic party but has never been an aspirant for official preferment of any sort. Mr. Lee was supervising architect of the new court house which was built in Perry county in 1905, and he devotes special attention to the planning and superintending of business blocks and school buildings, while his services are in demand in the most diverse sections of the State. He is progressive in his attitude and is a careful and reliable business man, commanding the esteem of all with whom he has dealings. On June 15, 1902, Mr. Lee was united in marriage to Miss Rada Hilliard, daughter of Ransom and Mary E. Austin Hilliard of Newport, Ky. They have two children, Ray Goss, born June 25, 1903, and Zada, born Jan 7, 1906.
You can see a full list of currently known R.E. Lee designs at the MDAH Historic Resources Database. I notice that the MDAH list does not include any buildings in Columbus, referred to in the obituary above.