By: Gwynn Thayer
The contracting firm D. J. Rose and Son Inc., based in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, has donated a major collection of historic architectural drawings and other documents to the North Carolina State University Libraries. Established in 1890 by builder David Jeptha Rose, D. J. Rose and Son is the oldest continuously operating general contracting firm in North Carolina.
Towering tobacco and textile mills, tall and elegant banks, classical courthouses in county seats, railroad stations large and small, electric power plants and fertilizer factories, hospitals and churches, and commercial buildings and residences in every style—for more than a century the Rose family firm constructed essential buildings of every kind throughout Eastern North Carolina and as far away as Florida and Maryland. Year by year, each generation of the firm filed away the records of their projects in nearly every town in the region.
The donors of the collection, Dillon Rose, Sr., and Dillon Rose, Jr., discovered the significance of the records after exploring NCSU Libraries’ website, North Carolina Architects and Builders at http://ncarchitects.lib.ncsu.edu/. Dillon Rose Jr. saw the biography for architect William P. Rose (David Jeptha Rose’s brother) and contacted the library to ask if the D. J. Rose firm was to be included in the website. Catherine W. Bishir, Curator of Architecture at the Special Collections Research Center at NCSU Libraries, learned from him about the family collection. Rose recalls, “I didn’t realize the importance of what we had until I talked with Catherine.”
To ensure the collection’s long-term preservation and access to researchers, the Roses agreed to donate the collection to the Libraries. The NCSU Libraries secured a matching grant from the Marion Stedman Covington Foundation of Greensboro, North Carolina, to enable the records—many of them more than 100 years old—to be cleaned by a conservation contractor.
The hundreds of rolls of drawings include works by some of the region’s leading architects for whom most records have been lost—Benton and Benton of Wilson, John C. Stout of Rocky Mount, Joseph Leitner of Wilmington, to name a few. Rows of boxes hold thousands of documents that tell the story of changing times and the work of many people, from local workmen asking for jobs to bills from distant suppliers of hardware and machinery. “It is a rich and amazing collection,” says Bishir. “We’ve seen just part of it, and can’t wait to see the rest of its treasures.”
Much of the collection involves railroad facilities—depots, turntables, platforms—especially those for the present Atlantic Coast Line (ACL), the lifeline of the region’s economic development. The company’s location by the railroad linked it to projects near and far, including the rail-oriented warehouses and factories where hundreds of workers sold or processed the region’s principal crops of cotton and tobacco.
As Gwyneth Thayer, Associate Head and Curator of Special Collections, who orchestrated the cleaning project, states, “Thanks to the Rose family and the Covington Foundation, historians and the interested public for years to come can learn about transportation and industrial history as well as architecture in ways that would never have been possible otherwise.”
The Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at the NCSU Libraries continues to assemble and archive the work of leading architects and builders to make these unique materials available to a wide audience. The SCRC has collected the papers of key architects, including G. Milton Small, Jr., George Matsumoto, and William Waldo Dodge, as well as those of past and present faculty members of NC State’s College of Design such as Henry Kamphoefner, Marvin Malecha, Matthew Nowicki, and Frank Harmon.
The SCRC holds research and primary resource materials in areas that reflect and support the teaching and research needs of the students, faculty, and researchers at the university. By emphasizing established and emerging areas of excellence at NC State University and corresponding strengths within the Libraries’ overall collection, the SCRC develops collections strategically with the aim of becoming an indispensable source of information for generations of scholars.