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The Architecture of William Nichols

The Architecture of William Nichols: Building the Antebellum South in North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi

Paul Hardin Kapp
with Todd Sanders
Foreword by William Seale
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Architecture of William Nichols
    Book Description:

    The Architecture of William Nichols: Building the Antebellum South in North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippiis the first comprehensive biography and monograph of a significant yet overlooked architect in the American South. William Nichols designed three major university campuses--the University of North Carolina, the University of Alabama, and the University of Mississippi. He also designed the first state capitols of North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi. Nichols's architecture profoundly influenced the built landscape of the South but due to fire, neglect, and demolition, much of his work was lost and history has nearly forgotten his tremendous legacy.

    In his research onsite and through archives in North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, Paul Hardin Kapp has produced a narrative of the life and times of William Nichols that weaves together the elegant work of this architect with the aspirations and challenges of the Antebellum South. It is richly illustrated with over two hundred archival photographs and drawings from the Historic American Building Survey.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-075-4
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    William Seale

    Building men mark the rise and flow of civilization. Their buildings are milestones through time. This book takes place in the first half of the nineteenth century, when its character, William Nichols, was setting down many such milestones. History books pay little attention to builders such as he was, compared to judges, doctors, military heroes, elected officials, and the like, who left words that determined their ruling presence.

    Paul Hardin Kapp has absorbed all the usual handicaps of research and through hard digging has unearthed the story of William Nichols. He has been heretofore a nearly forgotten architect, when in...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Chronology
    (pp. xiii-1)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)
    Paul Hardin Kapp

    Throughout most of my life, I have been influenced by William Nichols even though I never knew of him. He was one of many important architects who designed the backdrop of my boyhood in the American South. In the southern states of North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi, Nichols designed state capitols, governors’ mansions, and the campuses of each of these states’ most important universities. He designed numerous courthouses, churches, schools, houses, penitentiaries, and prisons. Sadly, most of these buildings have been lost through fires, demolition, or decay; yet, the buildings and places that did survive became a compelling part of...

  7. Chapter One The Ambitious Young Carpenter
    (pp. 13-41)

    When William Nichols arrived in New Bern, North Carolina, in 1800, he came to a new state that was sparsely populated with an agrarian economy and little, if any, transportation infrastructure. These conditions resulted in a shortage of skilled tradesmen and craftsmen and a nonexistent architectural tradition. Difficult terrain and the lack of navigable rivers into the heart of the Piedmont and western frontier restricted both commerce and the exchange of ideas, producing a society in North Carolina that was both frugal and pragmatic. During the eighteenth century, settlement in North Carolina predominantly occurred along the coastal plain in towns...

  8. Chapter Two Hayes
    (pp. 43-60)

    On the C. J. Sauthier Map of Edenton drawn in 1769, Hayes Plantation is shown as a modest farm across Queen Anne Creek, east of the bustling little town (figure 39). Even today, it sits in splendid isolation from the town, retaining its agrarian sense, a stark contrast to the civic nature of Colonial Avenue a few hundred yards away. With its spectacular views of Edenton Bay, Hayes Plantation was the home of patriot Samuel Johnston, a gentleman planter who pursued the business of agriculture in a grand manner.

    Samuel Johnston was one of the most influential and successful North...

  9. Chapter Three Captain William Nichols, State Architect of North Carolina
    (pp. 61-100)

    William Nichols is listed in the U.S. Census of 1820 as a resident of Fayetteville. Nichols’s census entry states that his family consisted of one white male between the ages of twenty-six and forty-five (Nichols), a white female between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six (his wife, Sarah), and two sons under the age of ten (William, Jr., and Samuel). The census listing also stated that Nichols was engaged in commerce and manufacturing and that he owned three slaves—a couple with one child.¹

    In the early part of the nineteenth century, Fayetteville was one of the largest and most...

  10. Chapter Four The State House in Raleigh
    (pp. 101-122)

    Throughout the first part of his career, William Nichols always sought the fame and recognition he felt was his due. The breakthrough project that allowed him to receive his long-sought recognition was the design and construction of Hayes. When he arrived in Fayetteville in 1818, he sought to benefit from his success at Hayes and the economic boom that the state was experiencing after the War of 1812. Along with designing numerous private commissions, he was appointed first superintendent of state buildings and then state architect of North Carolina, a position that he held until 1823 and which gave him...

  11. Chapter Five Alabama
    (pp. 123-172)

    In 1827, William Nichols left North Carolina and his twenty-seven-year architectural and building practice to seek fortune (or perhaps a new life) on what was considered the western frontier in the newly established state of Alabama.¹ While the circumstances that compelled Nichols to leave North Carolina are conjectural, this does not appear to have been a spontaneous or impulsive decision. The children of Nichols’s client base in North Carolina were now leaving their family farms and plantations for the virgin land of Alabama and Mississippi, a compulsion North Carolinians called “Alabama fever.”² Fifty years of overcultivation of tobacco left much...

  12. Chapter Six Louisiana
    (pp. 173-184)

    William Nichols and his wife, Sarah, moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to New Orleans, Louisiana, in December 1833 when he accepted the position of assistant state engineer for the state of Louisiana. For the first time in his career, William Nichols was not moving to a place where he had a potential client base to support his private practice. The architect/builder, who had designed two capitol buildings, two university campuses, five churches, two courthouses, a waterworks, and numerous impressive homes in North Carolina and Alabama, was now merely a civil servant of the state of Louisiana.

    There were no opportunities for...

  13. Chapter Seven The Mississippi State Capitol and the Office of State Architect
    (pp. 185-230)

    Mississippi was the last state where William Nichols would reside; over the previous thirty-five years, he had lived in three states, serving two as state architect and one as assistant state engineer. He was fifty-eight years old when he came to Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, in January of 1836 to be state architect after Governor Runnels fired John Lawrence. Eight months after his arrival, Nichols remarried for the third and last time. (What happened to Sarah Simons is unknown.) His bride was Lydia Lucinda Smith, a native North Carolinian who was thirty-two years old at the time of their...

  14. Chapter Eight “… Entire Master of His Profession”
    (pp. 231-268)

    Other than his time in Edenton, North Carolina, William Nichols’s ten-year stay (1836–1846) in Jackson, Mississippi, was the longest of any place he ever lived in the United States. He designed eight more churches, schools, and residences before leaving Jackson in search of work. During the last seven years of his life, Nichols worked and moved continuously, designing yet another university campus, palatial homes, modest homes, and a masterpiece of a county courthouse. His work was so exquisite that he would be called the “entire master of his profession,” a final tribute to the man who brought English classicism...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 269-282)

    Throughout the writing of this book, both Todd Sanders and I have agreed that William Nichols is a difficult, yet important, American architect to document and comprehend. His influence and impact on the American South is both obvious and obscure. One drawing, a few letters, and some ledgers are his only personal effects that survive. More of his buildings have been lost than have survived, and many of those have been altered beyond recognition. Those that survive, intact—Hayes, the Old Mississippi Capitol, the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion—are the living embodiments of William Nichols the architect and his contribution to...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 283-312)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-322)
  18. Index
    (pp. 323-336)