Mississippi’s Early Concrete Skyscrapers

America Building Hattiesburg, Forrest County. Photo by Russell Archer 06-15-2012. Retrieved from MDAH HRI database 01-30-2013

America Building Hattiesburg, Forrest County. Photo by Russell Archer 06-15-2012. Retrieved from MDAH HRI database 01-30-2013

Recently I came across the Hattiesburg Mississippi Industrial Edition for May 1908.  It will most certainly be the source of many future blog posts, with lots of photographs, descriptions, and accounts of goings-on in the Hub City. Of all the civic boosting that is done in the volume, one small comment caught my eye.  It was this off-handed quote about Hattiesburg’s Ross Building, then recently completed in 1907, in an ad for a watchmaker.

…the magnificent Ross Building, the first reinforced concrete building to be erected in the state of Mississippi…

p-47-hattiesburg-mississippi-industrial-edition-may-1908

Advertisement for Robert E. Lee, Archt. from Hattiesburg Mississippi Industrial Edition May 1908, page 47. from http://collections.msdiglib.org

Was this a case of over zealous civic booster-ism, perhaps misinformation, or is it the gosh-honest truth?  Has anyone seen any other references to the Ross Building being the first concrete reinforced structure in Mississippi?  Concrete would have been a logical choice over steel for Mississippi’s early skyscrapers as concrete is considerably cheaper.  In addition to steel having inferior fireproof qualities to concrete, the significant amount of structural steel would have required long hauls from a steel foundry in another state resulting in a costly freight bill, where concrete was readily availability in Forrest County.   Robert E. Lee was the architect and moved his practice into the Ross Building, having an advertisement in the same publication that featured a photo of the then recently completed structure.  I haven’t found much information the builder, the Jefferson Construction Company.  According to the MDAH HRI database, they were from Birmingham, AL.  The firm appears to have been incorporated in early 1905 with capital stock totaling $125,000.00. But I haven’t found if they had any prior experience building concrete reinforced structures.

On a separate but related note, related to reinforced concrete structures, I’ve heard that the Standard Life Building became the largest reinforced concrete building in the world upon its completion in 1929.  Has anyone seen any reliable documentation on this cool-if-true fact?

 



Categories: Architectural Research, Hattiesburg, Historic Preservation, Jackson

Tags: , ,

14 replies

  1. as a native of’ the hub city’–with family members who settled there soon after it was founded,, am always happy to see ‘conversations’ about it, so, thanks, tom, for this ‘conversation’. won’t comment on the ross bldg just now, but will thank you for ‘digging out’ the digitalized edition of the ‘hattiesburg mississippi industrial edition’ of 19o8. i have seen this brochure before, but, it’s been a long time. glad this copy belongs to the hahs and very happy that it has been made available this way. many of the buildings(of all types) pictured here were standing–and ‘being used/lived in’– when i was growing up there in the late 40s/50s; a number have family connections. . many are gone or are greatly remodeled now. the city has grown considerably westward since the early 1900s, and, i have discovered that many of the newer residents(who live, work, shop, go to church, etc. in ‘new hattieburg’ ) have no idea of the existence of the ‘early sections’! their loss, huh!

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  2. ‘great post’

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  3. I want to say that the 8-story First National Bank in Vicksburg, completed in 1907, was concrete frame, but reading back through this long description of it at its opening, I don’t see any reference to the framing system. I’ll look around for more information about it. https://misspreservation.com/2011/12/13/the-view-from-the-roof-of-the-building-is-magnificent-in-every-direction/

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    • hmm maybe it’s just an issue of who completed their building first? Although river traffic to Vicksburg might have been more accessible for shipping steel beams? Let us know what you find!

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    • You’re right, Vicksburg’s First National is a steel structure. Should have figured that out with the MDAH database noting Virginia Bridge and Iron Co. as a subcontractor. This article in the June 11, 1906 Vicksburg Evening Post, titled “Finishing up Steel Work,” confirms it: “Mr. H.C. Schaffer, superintendent of the putting up the steel structure of the new bank building is finishing up the work today having the immense steel frame eight stories all up and complete, the last rivets are being put in today.”

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  4. so, is hattiesburg’s ross bldg ‘no. 2’? maybe there wasn’t any communication between south ms and west central ms re a ‘contest’? well, ‘no. 2’ is still ‘something’– and, the ross bldg was certainly a fine structure– with(as i have mentioned before) the most incredible ‘soda fountain/backbar’ in the drug store on the main floor—onyx, as i recall, with mirrors and metal(maybe gilded?) ornaments.

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    • Nope, it still appears to be No. 1 based on Malvaney’s above comment about Vicksburg’s First National being a steel frame structure.

      I suppose it is not technically the first reinforced concrete structure in the state. The earliest still standing would be the 1757 La Pointe Krebs House, where complete shells were used as reinforcement in the concrete. Plenty of late 19th and early 20th century structures had reinforced concrete slabs or floor plates, so maybe the technical terminology would be first building with reinforced concrete columns to be erected in the state

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      • yes, i was obviously confused this afternoon by the data in the various ‘conversations’– and, yes, one should definitely make the distinction, ‘reinforced concrete columns’! meanwhile, until we know otherwise, it’s nice to have that ‘no. 1′ distinction’ applied to a hburg bldg THAT STILL STANDS! of course, know the krebs house– it was a rather tacky tourist trap the last time i was there—but, that was many years ago….. is it more properly interpreted now?

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        • Absolutely Hattiesburg should be proud of this claim. If you haven’t seen it I wrote several posts back when the buildings were rehabilitated in 2012 for loft apartments.

          https://misspreservation.com/2013/02/01/photo-update-of-the-hub-city-lofts/

          The Krebs House is slowly but surely coming back from Katrina. With such a fragile, important structure I can understand why the project has not been rushed. Currently the bousillage walls are being stabilized and a roof and chimney repairs are next on the list. The museum is back open to the public. The La Pointe Krebs Foundation had a logo that I like stating “it’s not Spanish, it’s not a fort but it is old.”

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      • Tabby buildings are not reinforced concrete. They are just concrete buildings with oak ash and burned oyster shells as the cement and oyster shells as aggregate. The Krebs House is not different from any standard masonry building of the time with solid masonry walls but with wooden beams and joists. If it was built out of bricks, it would have the same construction technique.

        Reinforced concrete is concrete with metal to provide tensile strength. Although numerous concrete buildings abound in history, such as the Coliseum and Pantheon, they are not reinforced concrete. That is a mid- to late-19th Century invention, experimented on in small scale until Cincinnati’s Ingalls Building of 1903, a 16-story skyscraper that was (likely) the world’s first reinforced concrete skyscraper. The Ross Building is a smaller application of that technology, one that is especially noteworthy due to how early it is.

        One should note that some steel-framed buildings could almost be considered reinforced concrete buildings. The Barclay-Vesey Building in New York City survived September 11 because its steel frame is completely encased in concrete. I remember watching a documentary about its reconstruction where a structural column was shown. Damage from the World Trade Center’s collapse had sheared off several inches of encasing concrete, but the steel was undamaged thanks to the reinforcement.

        I looked in my books on Birmingham’s architecture but could find no reference to Jefferson Construction Company. They were not responsible for any major Birmingham landmarks. That could be why they did work in Mississippi, with Birmingham being full of cut-throat competition between local firms and out-of-town ones from Chicago and Atlanta. Also, Birmingham had little problem erecting steel-framed buildings. The city was built on the stuff, though I would surmise that all of Birmingham’s skyscrapers are fireproofed with concrete and other materials around structural members.

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        • I believe you misunderstood my comment. I wasn’t meaning to infer that the wood members at the doors and corners are a reinforcing member in tabby. Whole oyster and/or other shell is the reinforcement in tabby. Yes broken bits of shell are used as aggregate that is mixed with the cement to make the concrete. After the forms have been built, a layer of concrete is poured in, next a basket of whole shells are dumped in, then another layer of concrete is added and repeat ad finem.

          The complete definition of reinforced concrete looks at what the purpose is rather than just the sum of parts. In the 4th Edition of his Dictionary of Architecture and Construction Cyril Harris defines reinforced concrete as “concrete containing reinforcement designed on the assumption that concrete and reinforcement act together in resisting forces.” I’ve seen projects that call for fiberglass or even carbon fiber as reinforcement.

          Thank you for looking into the Jefferson Construction Company. If you like I can send you the news paper article that contains the incorporating officers if you might be familiar with any of them?
          Have you ever heard anything about the Standard Life Building being the largest reinforced concrete building in the world upon completion?

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          • We may have to bring in a third party to adjudicate our different opinions on what reinforced concrete is.

            I just do not believe tabby is a reinforced concrete form, just concrete. Aggregate is not reinforcement; it is just aggregate. I believe the oyster shells (crushed or not) are just aggregate, no different than broken limestone, furnace slag, river rocks, or any other aggregate material. The key point about reinforced concrete is that it has greater tensile strength than plain concrete, which has very little. I am surprised Harris did not include that in his definition, as it is every other definition I have read of reinforced concrete. Oyster shells provide no reinforcement to concrete’s tensile strength (or at least not to a degree that would allow tabby to be called reinforced concrete). Harris also includes tabby in Dictionary of Architecture and Construction and does not call it a form of reinforced concrete (he does not actually call it concrete for some reason).

            I had not heard that about Standard Life. It would be a good candidate for largest and tallest, though there are some very large industrial buildings and grain elevators in the north that could give it a run for its money as far as the largest floor area. Concrete-Central Elevator in Buffalo is approximately a quarter mile long and the equivalent of a 10-15 story building, but I am not sure if it is reinforced concrete or just concrete. I could say the same thing about the Cotton Belt Freight Depot in St. Louis, though it may be monolithic concrete construction and not quite as large a floor area as Standard Life. The National Register listings for both do not mention whether they are reinforced concrete or not.

            If you send me the article, I can see if any of the Jefferson Construction Company officers are notable enough to make it into my Birmingham books. They may have moved on to or created other construction firms.

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  5. Oddly enough, the Ross Building sits across the street from the Odd fellows Building. The earliest Jewish immigrants met on the fourth floor of that building circa 1907 and the Katz family were investors in the construction of the both the Ross Building and the Hattiesburg Hotel. In my time, the Hattiesburg Hotel was called the Milner Building. I watched it partially burn in 1948 from my grandfather’s business on Newman Street.

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  6. “World’s first reinforced concrete skyscraper” built in 1903 was 16 stories. It might be dubious that in 1929 a 22 story Standard Life Building would have then been the largest, but it will take more research into the years between to say otherwise.

    http://www.asce.org/project/ingalls-building/

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