North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

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Collier, William (fl. 1810s)

Variant Name(s):
  • William Colyer
Birthplace: USA
  • Brickmason;
  • Brickmaker
NC Work Locations:
  • Orange County
  • Orange
  • Hillsborough, Orange County
  • Orange
  • Raleigh, Wake County
  • Wake
Building Types:
  • Commercial;
  • Residential
Styles & Forms:
  • Federal

Ayr Mount [Orange County]

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Ayr Mount [Orange County]


William Collier (fl. 1810s) was a notable representative of the many brickmasons involved in the most substantial buildings in the central Piedmont in the early 19th century. As related by historian Jean Bradley Anderson, his work is well documented in the extensive Cameron Family Papers and the Thomas Ruffin Papers, giving an unusually detailed picture of the activities of such an artisan, most of whom remain unknown. He made and laid bricks at two important plantations in what was then Orange County. At Duncan Cameron's buildings at the plantation now known as Fairntosh, he worked concurrently with carpenters John J. Briggs and John and William Fort (see Fort Family), and other artisans on the main house and other structures, which were frame buildings with brick foundations and chimneys. At Ayr Mount, near Hillsborough, he constructed the solid brick walls of the large plantation house for merchant and planter William Kirkland, and some of the same carpenters worked there as well. He is also credited with the brickwork for Raleigh's premier hostelrie of the early 19th century, the Eagle Hotel. Doubtless Collier undertook many other masonry projects for which records do not survive.

Duncan Cameron, son of a Scots-born minister, moved from Virginia to Hillsborough, became a successful lawyer, and married Rebecca Bennehan, daughter of the wealthy merchant and planter Richard Bennehan. Jean Bradley Anderson's Piedmont Plantations: The Bennehan-Cameron Family and Lands in North Carolina (1985), which draws upon the extensive Cameron Family Papers, depicts in unusual detail the intermittent work of the various craftsmen who built Fairntosh. Orginally called Woodville, the plantation was named Fairntosh after Cameron's Scottish roots.

When Duncan set out to build the plantation complex for himself and his wife Rebecca on land given by her father, he adhered to traditional practices of the day: rather than making an overall bargain with a contractor, he employed different artisans separately to accomplish the work of their trades. The tasks of the various tradesmen had to be scheduled in a workable sequence, with certain tasks having to be completed before others could be done. In addition to Collier and the Fort brothers, the artisans at Fairntosh included house carpenters John J. Briggs and Elhannon Nutt and plasterer Henry Gorman (see Gorman Family) who were also active in Raleigh.

William Collier's early life is not yet documented. He first appears in known records when he arrived at the present Fairntosh plantation in May 1810 to make bricks for the chimneys and foundations for the main house during May and June. He returned in October to make more bricks. In December he was paid for making two batches of bricks, 65,000 and 70,000, and for laying 150,000 bricks for the chimneys and underpinning (foundations) of the main house, the overseer's house, and the kitchen. In 1814, the Camerons had another kitchen constructed. Rebecca Cameron wrote to Duncan on March 15, "Mr. Colyer requested me to ask you if you wished the walls of the kitchen filled in with brick, he says you talked of it some time ago. I am afraid I shall hardly get an answer before he has finished the work he has on hand." This was a method often called "nogging," in which a timber frame structure is infilled with brick, perhaps for insulation or to discourage rodents; other Cameron family structures were treated in this way as well. The 2-story kitchen still stands, including its brick-nogged frame walls covered in weatherboards. Collier apparently satisfied Cameron's expectations, for in 1818 Cameron hired him to make the bricks for a rear addition to the main dwelling, erected by the Forts and finished by John J. Briggs. He may have laid the bricks as well.

In the early 1810s, another planter, William Kirkland, a native Scotsman who had been a merchant, set out to build another imposing plantation house, which he named Airmount (Ayr Mount) in honor of his native Scotland. This was a challenging project, for it was a tripartite house of unusual plan and one of the few all-brick residences of its time and place. It features Flemish bond brickwork and flat arches over the doors and windows, as well as rich interior plastering and woodwork.

As related by Jean Bradley Anderson in The Kirklands of Ayr Mount (1991), William Kirkland caviled over Collier's charges. Kirkland wrote to attorney and planter Thomas Ruffin, who was then in Raleigh, "Mr. Collier has presented me with an Acct of the Brick work done on my house. I think he charges me with laying a great many more brick than there is in the house counting solid walls."

Fortunately, Kirkland's complaints illuminate bricklayers' practices of the time as well as tensions between elite clients and the artisans they employed. "He also charges one Dollar for every Arch in the house, that is cutting the brick for them, amounting to $51; he also charges for Pencilling and repairing joints, $35" (meaning to inscribe and whiten the mortar joints between the bricks for a neat effect). Kirkland asked Ruffin to consult one Mr. Parish in Raleigh and get a copy of his account with Collier, who had evidently accomplished some brickwork for Parish, or to obtain information from someone else in Raleigh.

Receiving no response from Ruffin, Kirkland sent a second letter ten days later, complaining of Collier's method of charging for the bricks laid, by counting all the walls as solid, "making no allowance for Doors & Windows besides one Dollar for cutting the bricks for each Door and Window. He measures the Walls from outside to outside which I think unreasonable . . . . I wish also to be informed how many Bricks were counted to the foot in his settlement with Mr. Parish, as when Mr. Collier & I agreed I understood he was to do the work on the same terms he did his.

The "Mr. Parish" Kirkland cited was likely Charles Parish, who according to Elizabeth Reid Murray's Wake: Capital County of North Carolina (1983) was the proprietor of the prestigious Eagle Hotel in Raleigh—"apparently the first brick hostelry in Raleigh," a 3-story brick building completed in 1812 across Edenton Street from the State House. From Kirkland's letter, Collier may be credited with its construction.

Nothing has been learned as yet of William Collier's life or work before or after these projects. There are several men by that name in censuses of North Carolina and other states, but census records do not give occupations before 1850.

Note: Artisans such as Collier could be at a disadvantage in dealing with recalcitrant clients; not for many years would North Carolina pass a mechanics' lien law giving a "mechanic" property rights in a project for which he had accomplished work and supplied materials without having been paid. How Collier and Kirkland concluded their negotiations remains unknown. In another similar case, planter Thomas Littlejohn wrote to Duncan Cameron in 1817 inquiring how much John J. Briggs had charged for Cameron's staircase, since Briggs had agreed to charge him [Littlejohn] at the same rate Briggs had charged Cameron and Kirkland for similar work. See Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture.

Author: Catherine W. Bishir.

Published 2016

Building List

Eagle Hotel (Raleigh, Wake County)

Wake Raleigh


Variant Name(s):
  • State Agriculture Building;
  • Guion Hotel;
  • National Hotel
Dates: 1812; 1870; 1883 [remodeled]; 1899-1900 [addition]
Location: Raleigh, Wake County
Street Address: NW corner Edenton St. and Halifax St., Raleigh, NC
Status: No longer standing
  • Commercial;
  • Public
Images Published In:
  • William B. Bushong, "A. G. Bauer, North Carolina's New South Architect," North Carolina Historical Review, 60.3 (July 1983).
  • Elizabeth C. Waugh, North Carolina's Capital, Raleigh (1967).

The hotel facing the North Carolina State Capitol was built for Charles Parish and began operation in 1812 as the Eagle Hotel, and operated under various names over the years. It was considered Raleigh's finest hotel for years. By 1870, it had been expanded into a large brick building with double porches. In 1883 it was remodeled by A. G. Bauer to house state offices, and it was headquarters of the state's agricultural department. It was expanded dramatically in 1899-1900; the News and Observer of August 24, 1899, cited the State Agriculture Building then under construction as the work of Pearson and Ashe. In 1896 it appeared on the Sanborn Map as the State Agriculture Building and State Museum, and by 1903 (Sanborn Map), it had an immense addition that extended down Halifax Street and around the corner on Jones Street. That building was razed to build the current Agriculture Building (1922-1923) by G. Murray Nelson and Thomas Wright Cooper.

Fairntosh (Orange County)



Dates: 1810-1822
Location: Orange County
Street Address: 5000 Old Oxford Highway, SR 1004, Treyburn vicinity, NC
Status: Standing
  • Residential
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).
  • Frances Benjamin Johnston and Thomas Tileston Waterman, The Early Architecture of North Carolina (1941).


Ayr Mount (Hillsborough, Orange County)

Orange Hillsborough


Dates: 1814-1816
Location: Hillsborough, Orange County
Street Address: St. Mary's Rd., Hillsborough vicinity, NC
Status: Standing
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Jean Bradley Anderson, The Kirklands of Ayr Mount (1991).
  • 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).
  • Frances Benjamin Johnston and Thomas Tileston Waterman, The Early Architecture of North Carolina (1941).
  • Mills B. Lane, Architecture of the Old South: North Carolina (1985).

Ayr Mount

William Collier's Work Locations


  • Jean Bradley Anderson, Piedmont Plantation: The Bennehan-Cameron Family and Lands in North Carolina (1985).
  • Jean Bradley Anderson, The Kirklands of Ayr Mount (1991).
  • Cameron Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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