Last week marked the anniversaries of the life and death of Chicago architect John Wellborn Root (January 10, 1850 – January 15, 1891). Root, one-half of the renowned firm Burnham & Root, only has one documented commission in Mississippi, the no longer extant Kansas City, Memphis, & Birmingham Railroad Depot in Aberdeen.
Root was born in Lumpkin, Georgia. He was sent by his father to England during the Civil War, afterwards returning to the United States and attending college at New York University. He moved to Chicago in 1871, certainly the place to be for any architect with the massive rebuilding efforts that would be carried out.
In 1873 he would partner with Daniel Burnham. Root was the creative genius of the firm and Burnham was the business, marketing and planning head of the firm. When Root passed away after a bout with pneumonia in 1891, Louis H. Sullivan deeply mourned the passing of his friend and colleague, wondering if it signaled an end to the pursuit of an American style of Architecture. This American style was something that Sullivan pursued all his life. Sullivan’s description of the style could best be summed up as this: a style that did not borrow from the Classical Orders, Renaissance, or Gothic Europe, but a wholly new style, one what was inspired by the natural beauty and democratic idea of our country. Sullivan was dismayed after Root’s passing that with Root’s former partner Daniel Burnham named as the Director of Works, the 1893 World’s Fair would not be built in an American style but in styles that followed a European precedent. An example of this is to compare the building designed by Louis Sullivan to that of Charles Atwood for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
The popularity of the classical Beaux-Arts theme carried out by the fair led to the City Beautiful movement & renewed interest in Neo-Classical architecture across the United States. This effectively ended Louis Sullivan’s influence as a taste-maker in popular culture. Certainly had he lived through the design process, Root who had been appointed consulting architect, would have had greater influence over the use of an American style in the Fair. In recognition of his significant body of work of lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture, Root was posthumously awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 1958.
I haven’t been able to find any images of the Aberdeen KCM & B Railroad Depot, but the 1896 book John Wellborn Root: A Study of His Life and Work by Harriet Monroe (Root’s sister-in-law) features two depots that are indicative of his depot design work. Aberdeen’s KCM & B Railroad Depot sat on the north-east corner of the intersection of Quincy and Maple Streets.
Are there any images of the Burnham & Root designed KCM & B Railroad Depot? Burnham’s successor firm D.H. Burnham & Co. would design the 1907 Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Depot in Vicksburg well after Root’s passing. Does anyone know of any other buildings designed by John Wellborn Root in Mississippi?