John Wellborn Root (1850 – 1891)

John Wellborn Root c.1890 Image from John Wellborn Root: A Study of His Life and Work by Harriet Monroe

John Wellborn Root c.1890 Image from John Wellborn Root: A Study of His Life and Work by Harriet Monroe

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.

Transportation Building. Worlds Colombian Exhibition, Chicago Il. Adler & Sullivan Architects 1893

Transportation Building. Worlds Colombian Exhibition, Chicago Il. Adler & Sullivan Architects, 1893

Court of Honor

Court of Honor. Worlds Colombian Exhibition, Chicago Il. Multiple Architects, 1893

Entrance to the Palace of Fine Arts. Worlds Colombian Exhibition, Chicago Il. Charles Atwood for D.H. Burnham & Co. Architects, 1893

'Golden Door' Entrance to the Transportation Building

‘Golden Door’ Entrance to the Transportation Building. Worlds Colombian Exhibition, Chicago Il. Adler & Sullivan Architects, 1893.

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?

Categories: Aberdeen, Architectural Research, Demolition/Abandonment, Depots, Historic Preservation


5 replies

  1. Enjoyed this post very much. How wonderful it would be if the Aberdeen depot were still there and restored. Hope someone can find a photo of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent read for this morning! You know of course, now I will be obsessed to try to find a picture of the Aberdeen depot–I will do my best to resist the urge…maybe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Please let us know if you do. As an after thought to this post I can’t help but wonder if Root had lived and the classical theme of the fair had been toned down, would we see fewer classically inspired state capitol buildings?


      • That is thought provoking, isn’t it? I actually thought I had found a photo of the Aberdeen station, and technically, I guess I had, but it turned out to be one constructed in 1926 for a different railroad, although it was for Aberdeen, MS.


        • Aberdeen had quite the proliferation of railroad depots. The MDAH HRI lists the M & O Railroad Depot, 1880; IC Railroad Depot, 1888; KCM & B Railroad Depot, 1888; SL & SF Railroad Depot, 1929-1930. What was the depot constructed in 1926?


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