North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

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Holt, Thomas J. (ca. 1814-1890)

Birthplace: Prince Edward County, Virginia, USA
Residences:
  • Virginia
  • Warrenton, North Carolina
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
Trades:
  • Carpenter/Joiner;
  • Architect
NC Work Locations:
  • Oxford, Granville County
  • Granville
  • Monroe, Union County
  • Union
  • Raleigh, Wake County
  • Wake
  • Warren Plains, Warren County
  • Warren
  • Warrenton, Warren County
  • Warren
Building Types:
  • Educational;
  • Public;
  • Transportation
Styles & Forms:
  • Italianate;
  • Second Empire

Union County Courthouse [Monroe]

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Union County Courthouse [Monroe]

Biography

Thomas J. Holt (ca. 1814-1890), brother of contractor Jacob W. Holt, began his career as a carpenter but assumed the role and title of architect and worked in the North Carolina Piedmont for many years. He was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, the second son of carpenter David Holt and Elizabeth McGehee Holt. After Thomas and his elder brother, Jacob W. Holt, lost their mother in 1821, they were entrusted to the care of a maternal uncle and probably apprenticed to a local carpenter. By 1849 Thomas joined his brother, Jacob, in Warrenton, North Carolina as did other Prince Edward County building artisans. Jacob Holt's carpentry and building shop was among the largest in the state. In 1850 Thomas J. Holt's household was next to his brother's, and included his wife Rebecca, three children (Indiana, Henry, and Jacob), and carpenters Samuel Rogers (43) and William Phillips (23). The Holt brothers worked together for a time. In some cases, Jacob took on building contracts which Thomas then superintended, including a job for General M. T. Hawkins in 1850. At the large St. John's College (1855-1857) in Oxford, Jacob Holt contracted for the carpentry and John Berry of Hillsborough contracted for the masonry work; Thomas received payments regularly for the Holt portion of the work and probably superintended. An open question is what role Thomas took in developing the Holt firm's designs from pattern books, and how much of the Holt style was Thomas's versus that of his more famous brother Jacob.

In the late 1850s Thomas J. Holt moved to Raleigh, where he became "architect" for the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad; the company's president was William J. Hawkins of Warren County. By 1860 in Raleigh Thomas identified himself as an architect, and he had remarried (Ellenora or Nora) and had more children (Estelle and Gaston). Thomas planned buildings for the railroad company and advertised for contractors to construct them at locations all along the line at Henderson, Franklinton, and Kittrell and possibly at Warren Plains and others. His largest project was the massive Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Repair Shops (1850s) in Raleigh, an extensive complex of brick buildings; the Raleigh newspaper praised the building and the "taste and skill" of Holt, the "Architect and Superintendent of the work." Although that building was razed in the mid-20th century, for many years the cornerstone marked with Holt's name remained. It is not known whether he also designed the Raleigh and Gaston's brick office building nearby, later known as the Seaboard Office Building.

Also in Raleigh, Thomas Holt became the architect for the Peace College Main Building on the eve of the Civil War; he simplified the design from that supplied by architect William Percival. His brother Jacob took the contract to build it. But the war delayed its completion; it was roughly finished for service as a hospital and only later fully completed for college use. In 1860 Thomas J. Holt won first prize for architectural drawing at the State Fair, a prize won the previous year by William Percival. None of his drawings are known to survive.

After the Civil War, Thomas and his family moved frequently. In 1869 a T. J. Holt advertised a carpentry business in Charlotte with "Architecture and building . . . in the latest style." The 1870 census shows that he, like his brother, moved to Mecklenburg County, Virginia, where building was active, and there he was listed as an architect with Nora and the children; in 1880 he was in Oxford, North Carolina, working as a house carpenter. During the 1880s he lived in Raleigh's Oakwood neighborhood, where he probably had a role in building some of the houses, though none has been documented. The same decade brought his most important known postwar building: he served as "chief architect" of the Union County Courthouse (1887-1888) in Monroe, a substantial brick edifice in Second Empire style.

Author: Catherine W. Bishir.

Published 2009

Building List

Union County Courthouse (Monroe, Union County)

Union Monroe

1887

Contributors:
Dates: 1887-1888; 1926 [additions]
Location: Monroe, Union County
Street Address: Courthouse Square, Monroe, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Public
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
  • Suzanne S. Pickens, ed., Sweet Union: An Architectural and Historical Survey of Union County, North Carolina (1990).
Note:

The Union County Courthouse was originally designed by Thomas J. Holt. C. C. Hook and his son Walter were the architects for the 1926 additions.

Union County Courthouse

Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Repair Shops (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1850

Contributors:
Dates: 1850s
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: N. Wilmington St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Transportation
Images Published In:
  • Elizabeth C. Waugh, North Carolina's Capital, Raleigh (1967).

Peace College Main Building (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh

1850

Variant Name(s):
  • Peace Institute Main Building
Contributors:
Dates: 1850s and later
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: Peace St. opposite Wilmington St., Raleigh, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Educational
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).

Peace College Main Building

St. John's College (Oxford, Granville County)

Granville Oxford

1855

Variant Name(s):
  • Oxford Orphanage
Contributors:
Dates: 1855-1857
Location: Oxford, Granville County
Street Address: Corner of College St. and Alexander Ave., Oxford, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Fraternal
Images Published In:
  • Views: Pictorial History of the Oxford Orphanage (1922)
Note:

The immense St. John's College, a Masonic project, became the Oxford Orphanage after the Civil War, also a Masonic institution.

St. John's College

Warren Plains Raleigh and Gaston Depot (Warren Plains, Warren County)

Warren Warren Plains

1863

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1863
Location: Warren Plains, Warren County
Street Address: Warren Plains, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Transportation
Images Published In:
  • Kenneth McFarland, The Architecture of Warren County, North Carolina, 1770s to 1860s (2001).
Note:

One of the few mid-19th century buildings surviving of the Raleigh and Gaston line, the board and batten frame depot is probably that for which lumber was "on the ground" in 1863 and construction was expected soon. It was identified as the Warrenton depot; although it was a few miles outside of town it was the closest stop to Warrenton. Since Thomas J. Holt was architect for the Raleigh and Gaston, he probably designed the building, and it seems likely that his brother Jacob would have built it. The structure, which features large, arched openings, was probably a freight depot.

Warren Plains Raleigh and Gaston Depot

Gloster-Hill-Crossan House (Warrenton, Warren County)

Warren Warrenton

1850

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1850
Location: Warrenton, Warren County
Street Address: 211 Ridgeway St., Warrenton, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Kenneth McFarland, The Architecture of Warren County, North Carolina, 1770s to 1860s (2001).
Note:

In the 1970s, Miriam Boyd, a descendant of the owner, stated that she had always heard that the Holts, Thomas and Jacob, built the house. It has features typical of Holt and also some typically associated with Albert Gamaliel Jones.

Thomas J. Holt's Work Locations

Bibliography

  • Catherine W. Bishir, "Jacob W. Holt, An American Builder," Winterthur Portfolio (Spring, 1980), reprinted in Catherine W. Bishir, Southern Built: American Architecture, Regional Practice (2006).
  • 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).
  • Charlotte Daily Observer, Oct. 10, 1869.
  • Lizzie Wilson Montgomery, Sketches of Old Warrenton, North Carolina (1984).
  • North Carolina Standard, Oct. 31, 1860.
  • Raleigh City Directory, various issues.
  • Raleigh Register, May 2, 1860, Aug. 22, 1860, Oct. 31, 1860.
  • Raleigh Spirit of the Age, Nov. 16, 1859.
  • Union County Records, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
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