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Jack Quinan

(b Hartland, CT, June 15, 1773; d Springfield, MA, July 26, 1845).

American architect and writer. Benjamin was one of the most influential architect–writers of the first half of the 19th century in the USA and was trained as a housewright in rural Connecticut between 1787 and 1794. Two of his earliest commissions, the carving of Ionic capitals (1794) for the Oliver Phelps House in Suffield, CT, and the construction of an elliptical staircase (1795) in Charles Bulfinch’s Connecticut State Capitol at Hartford, reveal an exceptional ability with architectural geometry that was to help to determine the direction of his career. Benjamin worked as a housewright in a succession of towns along the Connecticut River during the 1790s. In 1797, dissatisfied with the publications of William Pain, an English popularizer of the Neo-classical style of Robert Adam, Benjamin wrote The Country Builder’s Assistant, a modest handbook for carpenters that was the first such work by an American writer. In ...

Article

George E. Thomas

(b Gudenham Manor, near Taunton, Somerset, Dec 12, 1792; d Philadelphia, PA, March 29, 1852).

English architect and writer, active in the USA. He was apprenticed in 1811 to James Elmes (1782–1862), a successful London architect and writer on art and architecture. In 1815, after the minimal service of four years, Haviland set out for Russia where he hoped to gain an appointment in the Imperial Corps of Engineers. In St Petersburg he met the American ambassador and future president, John Quincy Adams (1735–1826), and his future brother-in-law, George von Sonntag, who encouraged him to immigrate to the USA. In 1816 Haviland arrived in Philadelphia, where he hoped to set up an architectural practice like Benjamin Henry Latrobe before him. Philadelphia had changed, however, since the national capitol had moved to Washington, DC, and the economic centre had shifted to New York. Where Latrobe had pioneered the role of the professional architect in the USA, Haviland initially succeeded to his position of taste-maker, bringing fashionable English styles to anglophile Philadelphia. Like so many of his contemporaries, Haviland needed to use every opportunity to present his talents, including teaching and publications. Shortly after his arrival, he was conducting classes on architecture; simultaneously he wrote ...

Article

Denys Peter Myers

(b nr Morristown, NJ, Aug 10, 1798; d Williamsburgh [now within Brooklyn], NY, Sept 26, 1854).

American writer and architect of French descent. He trained as a carpenter and later became an architect, following a development typical of his generation. By 1828 he had moved to New York City. He is best known for the manuals he wrote for builders. His first, The Young Builder’s General Instructor (1829), included plates copied from Metropolitan Improvements (1827–9) by the architectural writer and lecturer James Elmes (1782–1862). Dissatisfied with his own work, Lafever withdrew the book, which was succeeded in 1833 by his second and more mature work, The Modern Builder’s Guide. James Gallier (i), Lafever’s partner from 1832 to 1834, did the frontispiece, and James H. Dakin drew six of the 89 plates. By 1855 seven editions had appeared. The Beauties of Modern Architecture (1835), with 46 plates by Lafever and one by Charles L. Bell, his partner in 1835...

Article

John Morrill Bryan

(b Charleston, SC, Aug 12, 1781; d Washington, DC, March 3, 1855).

American architect, engineer, cartographer and writer. He claimed to be the first native-born American to have completed ‘a regular course of study of Architecture in his own country’ and believed this training distinguished him both from 18th-century dilettantes and from contemporary competitors who came to architecture from the building trades. His work is indicative of an informed interest in new building types, materials and techniques and a recognition of the symbolic importance of style. He viewed his profession as a public trust and concentrated on the design of civic buildings and monuments. An influential architect, he promoted both fireproof construction and rational classicism, which later became hallmarks of American Federal architecture. His efforts did much to define the nature of American architectural practice in the 19th century.

Mills studied English and European pattern-books and learnt the rudiments of draughting and structure. In 1800 he moved to Washington, DC, and entered the office of ...

Article

John Martin Robinson

(b London, bapt Jan 8, 1745; d Charlotte Town, PEI, Canada, May 24, 1820).

English architect. He started as a bricklayer in Westminster, London, before progressing to architecture. He was among the more idiosyncratic of English Neo-classical architects and one of the pioneers in designing model farm buildings and cottages in the age of agricultural improvement. A fine group of farm buildings by him of c. 1790 survives at Allerton Park, N. Yorks. His plans show a preoccupation with geometrical pattern-making, and his principal executed work, Belle Isle (designed in 1774–5 for Thomas English), Lake Windermere, Cumbria, is a circular house with a segmental dome and portico, similar to a miniature Pantheon. It was widely influential, encouraging Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, to build circular houses at Ballyscullion (begun 1787), Co. Londonderry, and Ickworth (begun 1796), Suffolk, as well as inspiring a full-scale copy in Switzerland, the Villa la Gordanne (1800) at Perroy, Lake Geneva. Like many of his English architect contemporaries, Plaw was interested in novel materials and forms of construction and was among those who experimented with pisé, a French form of mud walling....

Article

Jack Quinan

(b Thompson, CT, Oct 3, 1784; d New Haven, CT, June 13, 1844).

American architect and writer. He was born in the years when architecture was just beginning to become a profession in America. His father, a gentleman farmer in north-east Connecticut, died in 1792. His mother soon remarried, and Town was sent to live with an uncle in Cambridge, MA. He later recalled being fascinated at the age of eight by the engraved diagrams in The Young Man’s Best Companion. The passion for books never left him.

The nature of Town’s schooling and training is not known. His biographer, Roger Hale Newton, suggested that he attended Asher Benjamin’s architectural school in Boston between 1804 and 1810, but there is no proof that such a school ever existed. He was probably apprenticed as a housewright. In 1810 Town, Solomon Willard and several housewrights founded the Boston Architectural Library. By 1813 Town had moved to New Haven, CT, where he seems to have functioned as superintendent of ...