By: Karen DeWitt
Mid-twentieth century modernist architect G. Milton Small, Jr. of Raleigh; Victorian era Charlotte house designer Harriet Morrison Irwin; German-born carpenter John Deitrick Tavis in antebellum Germanton; Civil War era joiner and A.M.E. minister George A. Rue of New Bern—these are just a few of the two dozen architects and builders whose new biographies have been added recently to North Carolina Architects & Builders: A Biographical Dictionary.
G. Milton Small, Jr., Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company, Raleigh, Joseph Molitor Collection, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University
With these new postings, the popular North Carolina State University Libraries website passes a major benchmark, now presenting more than 300 biographies of architects and builders who worked in North Carolina and accompanying data on more than 3,000 buildings they created in the state.
Launched in 2009 with 170 entries, the biographical dictionary project had its roots in the late 1970s in research for the book, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building (University of North Carolina Press, 1990), by Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and Ernest H. Wood III. The biographical dictionary was originally conceived as a companion print publication, but in 2007 the concept shifted to a web-based, “born digital,” resource that can be easily searched and constantly expanded.
The free, user-friendly ncarchitects.lib.ncsu.edu contains essential information about the lives and works of the people who created the state’s architecture from the colonial period to the late 20th century. Content developer and architectural historian Catherine W. Bishir says, “We believe it’s important to include not just the great architects of landmarks like Biltmore and the Dorton Arena, but also lesser-known artisans and builders, black and white, enslaved and free, who actually built most of our architectural legacy.”
A frequent user of the site, Andre’ D Vann, coordinator of the University Archives and Instructor of Public History at North Carolina Central University, reports that in his research on historic houses in Durham, “I have found the North Carolina Architects & Builders website essential in uncovering the rich and unique stories behind many historical buildings and builders.” In particular it has “shed light on African American architects and designers like Gaston Edwards who braved a new world and created a body of work worthy of emulation.”
Frank Harmon, Raleigh architect and professor at NC State’s College of Design, sees North Carolina Architects & Builders as “exceptionally useful to our students and to scholars in North Carolina and beyond” because it offers “insight into the lives of the men and women who have shaped the built environment of our state, a lineage that continues to inspire us today.” Few states have achieved such a comprehensive biographical dictionary, says Harmon, and “none has a better website of architects and builders.”
The site has won prizes from the Preservation North Carolina and the Vernacular Architecture Forum for its innovative and inclusive approach. Multiple authors have contributed to the biographies and accompanying building lists. New entries are in progress, and as project manager Markus Wust comments, “The website itself attracts new information from users who help make it more complete. There’s always more to learn.”