North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

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Bruce and Morgan (1882-1904)

Headquarters:
  • Atlanta, Georgia
Trades:
  • Architect
NC Work Locations:
  • Murphy, Cherokee County
  • Cherokee
Building Types:
  • Public
Styles & Forms:
  • Romanesque Revival

Cherokee County Courthouse [Murphy]

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Cherokee County Courthouse [Murphy]

Biography

Bruce and Morgan, architects, of Atlanta (1882-1904), was Georgia's leading architectural firm of the late 19th century. The Manufacturers' Record of December 27, 1895, reported, "Bruce and Morgan, of Atlanta, will prepare details and specifications and advertise for bids to rebuild the burned courthouse at Murphy." This brief announcement provides documentation for the only known work in North Carolina by this major Atlanta architectural firm.

According to Georgia architectural historian Richard Funderburke, the firm of Bruce and Morgan was "the most successful architectural business in Georgia" in its day. Established by Alexander Bruce (1835-1927) and Thomas Henry Morgan (1857-1940), it was the successor firm to the firm of Parkins and Bruce in Atlanta. Bruce and Morgan advertised that they specialized in planning courthouses, colleges, churches, libraries, and other public buildings. Their courthouse designs were typically eclectic in style and dramatic in form, featuring large towers and irregular rooflines, and combining styles including the Second Empire, Italianate, Romanesque Revival, and Eastlake modes in a single building. They also built many public schools and after 1895 Morgan designed some of Atlanta's first tall buildings.

Only one project in North Carolina has been linked to them—a grandiose edifice that stood for but a few years. The Cherokee County Courthouse (1895) was built of brick in a generally Romanesque Revival style and featured two massive and dramatically unequal towers. In its form and character it resembled known works by the firm in Georgia. It was a stunning centerpiece of the small, long-remote county seat of Murphy.

Cherokee County, the westernmost in North Carolina, had a series of short-lived courthouses. The first court was held in a house. The first courthouse in Murphy was built of brick in the 1840s, then allegedly burned by Federal troops in 1865 and rebuilt on the same walls. A new courthouse was built in 1891-1892 but burned in 1895. The county's fourth courthouse was built to replace it.

For the citizens of Murphy, the choice of an Atlanta architectural firm made eminent sense. After the completion of the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad (1888; later the Louisville and Nashville or L&N) from Atlanta and the Western North Carolina Railroad (1891) from Asheville, the long-remote mountain county seat was tied by rail to the larger world, with Atlanta (less than 120 miles away) by far the largest city within easy reach by rail. The large brick courthouse of 1891-1892 offered a bold statement of the newly arrived railroad era.

Evidently, after the 1891-1892 courthouse burned in 1895, it was rebuilt in essentially the same form. What is not entirely clear—though it seems likely—is whether Bruce and Morgan had designed the 1891-1892 edifice as well as providing documents for the 1895 rebuilding. The rebuilt courthouse exists only in photographs, however, for it, too, burned (in 1924). The present courthouse was designed by architect James J. Baldwin in a Beaux Arts classical design, but its footprint was shaped by that of its Romanesque Revival predecessor.

Author: Catherine W. Bishir.

Published 2009

Building List

Cherokee County Courthouse (Murphy, Cherokee County)

Cherokee Murphy

1891

Contributors:
Dates: 1891-1892; 1895
Location: Murphy, Cherokee County
Street Address: Peachtree St. and Central St., Murphy, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Public
Images Published In:
  • Michael Ann Williams, Marble and Log: The History and Architecture of Cherokee County, North Carolina (1984).

Cherokee County Courthouse

Bruce and Morgan's Work Locations

Bibliography

  • Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
  • Richard D. Funderburke, "Thomas Henry Morgan, Bruce and Morgan" (2002), New Georgia Encyclopedia, http://www.newgeorgiaencyclopedia.org.
  • Manufacturers' Record, Dec. 27, 1895.
  • Michelle Ann Michael, "The Rise of the Regional Architect in North Carolina as Seen Through the Manufacturers' Record, 1890-1910," M. H. P. Thesis, University of Georgia (1994).
  • Michael Ann Williams, Marble and Log: The History and Architecture of Cherokee County, North Carolina (1984).
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