North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

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Briggs, Thomas Henry, Sr. (1821-1886)

Birthplace: Orange County, North Carolina, USA
Residences:
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
Trades:
  • Builder;
  • Carpenter/Joiner;
  • Contractor;
  • Manufacturer
NC Work Locations:
  • Raleigh, Wake County
  • Wake
Building Types:
  • Commercial;
  • Public;
  • Religious;
  • Residential
Styles & Forms:
  • Italianate;
  • Queen Anne;
  • Second Empire

Briggs Building [Raleigh]

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Briggs Building [Raleigh]

Biography

Thomas Henry Briggs, Sr. (1821-1886), builder and manufacturer, worked in Raleigh during a long career that extended from the antebellum period into the 1880s. With James Dodd, he formed about 1850 the company of Briggs and Dodd, contractors and manufacturers of building components. The firm constructed some of the city's most stylish and complex buildings, including antebellum villas by architect William Percival. After the Civil War, Thomas H. Briggs continued in the building and manufacturing business as well as operating the hardware store established by Briggs and Dodd in 1865. Still in the family, Briggs Hardware is among the oldest businesses in the state.

Thomas H. Briggs, Sr., was the son of John J. Briggs, a well-known carpenter and builder in Raleigh, and Elizabeth Utley Briggs. Thomas was born in Orange County, according to his obituary, probably when his parents were residing there during a construction project. Thomas married Eveline Norwood on September 12, 1846, and they had six children: Thomas Henry, Jr.; James Augustine; Evelina; John D.; Fabius Haywood; and Henrietta. According to family tradition, Thomas was mostly self-educated and apprenticed and worked for his father until 1847. As a youth, he worked as a carpenter on construction of the North Carolina State Capitol where his father was lead carpenter.

As a young man, Briggs began to build houses and other structures as well as such items as horse troughs, coffins, and pumps. He also started to manufacture millwork by 1850, and joined in a partnership with James Dodd as manufacturers and builders. Their steam-powered planing mill in the 1850s included lathes, mortisers, and other sash machinery. In 1850 Thomas Briggs was listed in the census as a carpenter, aged 28, living next door to his father and mother. By 1860, Thomas was cited as a builder, living next door to James Dodd, who was also listed as a builder.

The firm had accounts with many local clients, both building owners and builders. In 1851, for example, the account book recorded work for the Misses Hinton: building a portico, shingling, glazing, and painting, and two front doors and frames. In 1849-1851 the account book listed items supplied to brick builder Dabney Cosby for unnamed projects, including lumber for mantels, making windows and doors, and making and putting up mantels—and for making "2 Plum rules for Osburn"—plumb rules for Cosby's enslaved workman Osborne (see Albert and Osborne). In 1852, Briggs credited Cosby with $20 for "building a chimney at my house."

In addition to their work as builders, Briggs and Dodd also engaged in real estate, owning property including houses in Wake County and surrounding counties. For a time in the 1850s and 1860s Briggs and later Dodd were part owners of a sawmill operation at the water powered mill site known as Yates Mill in Wake County.

In the 1850s, Briggs and Dodd undertook construction of three prominent and novel villas on the edges of Raleigh: Montfort Hall, the Carter Braxton Harrison House, and the Rufus S. Tucker House. Designed by architect William Percival, all three featured unfamiliar architectural designs and modern heating and plumbing systems that presented challenges. When Briggs and Dodd completed the Tucker House (1858-1859), they won a tribute from the client, leading merchant R. S. Tucker. He stated: "The style of the House being new to our Mechanics and the work tedious and difficult—Must have required patience and a great deal of labor but you have shown in its successful completion that you are Master Builders." More proof of Briggs and Dodd's high quality work and familiarity with current trends came when they won a prize in the builder-manufacturer category at the State Fair of 1860 for their sliding door architrave, a veranda column, circular sash and blinds, rolling slat blinds, and a circular-headed window, all of which were designed for use in the most up-to-date buildings.

An article about T.H. Briggs and Sons, prepared by the Briggs family and published in the Raleigh News and Observer on August 16, 1965, described Thomas H. Briggs, Sr.'s experience during the Civil War. The account stated that he served in the home guard, raised supplies for North Carolina troops, and donated food and clothing on the home front. He also helped close in the unfinished Peace College (designed by Thomas J. Holt) to ready the building for service as a Confederate hospital. According to family tradition, at the beginning of the war, Briggs liquidated all the assets he could into gold and silver coins and put them in lead pipes. Then, the story goes, in 1865, "when Sherman's Army of the North began to approach the City after leaving Atlanta, which they devastated, Thomas Henry I took his pipes and buried them on a hill near the residence of Col. Thomas Devereau[x]." After the war, Briggs recovered his coins and was immediately ready to expand his business to meet renewed demand for construction.

Briggs and Dodd opened a hardware store on Fayetteville (the main commercial street) in Raleigh in August 1865 and the business prospered and grew. They built the Briggs Building on its present site in 1874, which they cited as the tallest building of its day in eastern North Carolina. Briggs and Dodd's partnership ended in 1868, and Briggs made his two sons, Thomas Henry, Jr. (1847-1928) and James Augustine, partners in the firm.

After the war, Briggs continued a prolific and varied career. In addition to the hardware store, he operated a millwork plant, participated in real estate development, and with his contracting business constructed many of Raleigh's houses and other buildings. In 1870 Briggs's sash and blind factory represented $7,500 capital investment, and the 8-horsepower steam engine powered 2 planers, 2 morticers, 1 scroll saw, 1 sash saw, and 3 circular saws. He employed 12 workers who produced boards and ornamental millwork. In the late 1870s he advertised "Thos. H. Briggs, Manufacturer of Doors, Sash, Blinds, Window and Door Frames, Hand Rail, Dressed Flooring, Ceiling, Weatherboarding, Mouldings, Fancy Scroll Work For Porches, Brackets and Mantles, Always on Hand or Made to Order" (illustrated in Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and Ernest H. Wood III, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building [1990]).

As Raleigh grew after the war, Briggs's firm was a major builder. On December 23, 1879, Hale's Weekly of Raleigh described the planing mills built in 1858 near the corner of Hargett and West Streets and stated that the Briggs contracting firm, with about 25 employees, had built "more houses than any other firm" in Raleigh. According to his descendants, Briggs took part in developing the Oakwood neighborhood in Raleigh and constructed many of the houses there as well as others in the city. In addition to documented works, several buildings have been attributed to Thomas H. Briggs by local and family tradition, and doubtless many more were his work. One of his last and most prestigious jobs was construction of the large and ornate Wake County Courthouse, from designs by Albany, New York, architect John B. Halcott.

Briggs took an active role in Raleigh community life, and along with other local businessmen, he helped Shaw University obtain a charter in 1875. Like his father and other family members, he was a strong Baptist and a member of Raleigh's First Baptist Church. He died on August 4, 1886, at his home at 221 West Morgan Street. In his honor, local businesses closed for the day and a memorial service was given at the Tucker Auditorium Building. According to the News and Observer of August 5, 1886, Briggs "remained actively engaged as an architect and builder, and ably conducted his extensive planning mills." Assessing his impact in the city, the newspaper stated, "All his work was thorough, uniformly excellent. He had in the course of his life employed many mechanics and others, and it can with perfect truth be said that every man who ever worked for him, without an exception, loved him."

Author: Angie Clifton. Update: Catherine W. Bishir.

Published 2009

Building List

North Carolina State Capitol (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1833

Contributors:
Dates: 1833-1840
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: Union Square, Raleigh, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Public
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
  • Edward T. Davis and John L. Sanders, A Romantic Architect in Antebellum North Carolina: The Works of Alexander Jackson Davis (2000).
Note:

Although sometimes credited solely to Town and Davis, the design of the capitol was the result of a sequence of work by William Nichols, Sr. and Jr., Town and Davis, and David Paton, with advice from William Strickland. For a fuller explanation of the chronology and contributions of architects involved in the State Capitol, see Bishir, North Carolina Architecture and other sources cited herein.

North Carolina State Capitol

Montfort Hall (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1858

Contributors:
Dates: 1858
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 308 S. Boylan Ave., Raleigh, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
  • William B. Bushong, "William Percival, an English Architect in the Old North State, 1857-1860," North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 57, No. 3 (July, 1980).
  • Elizabeth C. Waugh, North Carolina's Capital, Raleigh (1967).

Montfort Hall

Rufus S. Tucker House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1858

Contributors:
Dates: 1858
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: St. Mary's St. at Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and Ernest H. Wood III, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building (1990).
  • William B. Bushong, "William Percival, an English Architect in the Old North State, 1857-1860," North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 57, No. 3 (July, 1980).
  • Elizabeth C. Waugh, North Carolina's Capital, Raleigh (1967).
Note:

When R. S. Tucker opened his new house for the inspection of his friends, the mansion Percival designed was "regarded as a marvel of architectural skill, full of the greatest conveniences and magnificently furnished throughout" (Greensboro Times, July 30, 1859). The Tucker House was razed in 1968. A large carriage house built later in the 19th century on its grounds still stands and is an arts center. It is possible that the carriage house was built by Thomas S. Briggs's contracting firm, but no documentation has been found.

Rufus S. Tucker House

Carter Braxton Harrison House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1860

Contributors:
Dates: 1860
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 18 Seaboard Ave., N. of Peace St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and Ernest H. Wood III, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building (1990).
  • William B. Bushong, "William Percival, an English Architect in the Old North State, 1857-1860," North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 57, No. 3 (July, 1980).
  • Elizabeth C. Waugh, North Carolina's Capital, Raleigh (1967).
Note:

The Harrison House was razed in 1962.

William J. and Mary Bayard Devereux Clarke House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1849

Contributors:
Dates: 1849
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential

Branch-Hillyer House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1852

Contributors:
Dates: 1852
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 305 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Elizabeth C. Waugh, North Carolina's Capital, Raleigh (1967).
Note:

According to an account in the News and Observer (April 26, 1942), the large house at 305 Hillsborough St. was built in 1852 by Briggs and Dodd for Lawrence O'Bryan Branch, a congressman and Confederate general, and was later the home of Mrs. Gussie H. Hillyer. "The first house caught fire and burned when just completed and was at once rebuilt."

Andrews-Lyman House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1853

Contributors:
Dates: 1853
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 105 E. North St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

According to an account in the News and Observer (April 26, 1942), the house at 105 E. North St. was built in 1853 for William J. Andrews, and was once owned by Ellen Mordecai and was for a time the home of Bishop T. B. Lyman. There were also "many others" built by Briggs and Dodd.

G. W. Mordecai Houses (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1870

Contributors:
Dates: 1870
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: E. Hargett St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

The Raleigh Daily Sentinel of July 22, 1870, reported that "two very neat cottage residences" were being built on E. Hargett St. for G. W. Mordecai, Esq. (George Washington Mordecai). They were probably investment or rental houses.

Seaton Gales House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1870

Contributors:
Dates: 1870
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

The Raleigh Daily Sentinel of July 22, 1870, reported, "Our neighbor, Maj. Seaton Gales, is having a beautiful and convenient family residence erected, on his lot just west of St. Mary's. Mr. T. H. Briggs is the contractor." The location was probably on Hillsborough St., since St. Mary's School faces that street.

Geranium Valley (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1870

Variant Name(s):
  • W.C. Stronach House
Contributors:
Dates: 1870
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 601 N. Bloodworth St., Raleigh, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential

A.B. Forrest House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1880

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1880
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 517 Polk St., Raleigh, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential

Creech and Briggs Store, Addition (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1871

Contributors:
Dates: 1871
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: NW corner Fayetteville St. and Hargett St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Note:

The Raleigh Telegram of June 23, 1871, reported that the addition to the store of Messrs. Creech and Briggs was "rising as if by magic" under the superintendence of that energetic Mechanic and Builder, Thos. H. Briggs."

Strong-Stronach House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1871

Contributors:
Dates: 1871
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 411 N. Bloodworth St., Raleigh, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential

Briggs Building (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1874

Contributors:
Dates: 1874
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 220 Fayetteville St., Raleigh, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
  • Jennifer A. Kulikowski and Kenneth E. Peters, Images of America: Historic Raleigh (2002).
Note:

The hardware business founded by Thomas Briggs and James Dodd in 1865 prospered. In 1868, the partners separated by mutual consent. Thereafter, Briggs Hardware was operated by Thomas H. Briggs, Sr., and his sons, James and Thomas H., Jr., and later by the next generations of the family. They built the present Italianate brick building in 1874. In 1915, John D. Briggs remodeled the street level store front. Over the years, its upper stories held the city's first YMCA, Raleigh's first Catholic Church, the Raleigh Little Theatre, and the State Hall of History and Museum. In 1994, the family decided to relocate the Briggs Hardware business to another site in Raleigh. To preserve the downtown landmark, Preservation North Carolina and the A.J. Fletcher Foundation acquired and rehabilitated the building in 1997-1998.

Briggs Building

Holleman Building (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1874

Contributors:
Dates: 1874
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 200 block Fayetteville St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential

Marcellus Parker House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1875

Contributors:
Dates: 1875
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 304 Oakwood Ave., Raleigh, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential

Ellen McGowan House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1877

Contributors:
Dates: 1877
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 401 Polk St., Raleigh, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential

Dodd-Hinsdale House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1879

Contributors:
Dates: 1879
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 330 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
  • Elizabeth C. Waugh, North Carolina's Capital, Raleigh (1967).
Note:

The imposing Second Empire residence was built for Mayor William H. Dodd (son of James Dodd), and may be the work of Thomas H. Briggs's firm, but this is not documented.

Dodd-Hinsdale House

Edenton Street Methodist Church (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1881

Contributors:
Dates: 1881
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: W. Edenton St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Religious
Images Published In:
  • Norman D. Anderson and B. T. Fowler, Raleigh: North Carolina's Capital City on Postcards (1996, 2000, 2002).
Note:

In 1881 the long-established Methodist congregation on Edenton Street completed a handsome church with a tower 184 feet high, the "loftiest in the city." This is probably the church identified by Stephanie Jacobe as designed by West, though the date she supplies is 1884. The cornerstone of the church is inscribed "Organized 1811. Rebuilt 1841, 1881, 1951, 1957."

Edenton Street Methodist Church

Wake County Courthouse (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1882

Contributors:
Dates: 1882-1883
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: Fayetteville St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Public
Images Published In:
  • Elizabeth Reid Murray and K. Todd Johnson, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina, Vol. II, Reconstruction to 1920 (2008).
Note:

The ornate Victorian period courthouse was designed by Albany, New York, architect John B. Halcott, who also did work in Durham. It was actually a thorough remodeling of the previous courthouse. See Elizabeth Reid Murray and K. Todd Johnson, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina, Vol. II, Reconstruction to 1920 (2008). The courthouse is pictured on the left.

Wake County Courthouse

C.W. Young House (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1886

Contributors:
Dates: 1886
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: 515 Polk St., Raleigh, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential

C.W. Young House

Thomas H. Briggs, Sr.'s Work Locations

Bibliography

  • Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and Ernest H. Wood III, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building (1990).
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
  • Briggs Hardware Account Books, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • James E. Briggs, "100 Year Anniversary, T. H. Briggs and Sons" (1965).
  • Charlotte Vestal Brown Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Grady Lee Ernest Carroll, Sr., They Lived In Raleigh: Some Leading Personalities from 1792 to 1892 (1977).
  • Linda L. Harris and Mary Ann Lee, An Architectural and Historical Inventory of Raleigh, North Carolina (1978).
  • Elizabeth Reid Murray, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina, Vol. I, Prehistory through Centennial (1983).
  • Elizabeth Reid Murray and K. Todd Johnson, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina, Vol. II, Reconstruction to 1920 (2008).
  • Raleigh News and Observer, Aug. 5, 1886; Aug. 6, 1886; Apr. 26, 1942; Aug. 16, 1965.
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