North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

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Niernsee, Frank (1849-1899)

Variant Name(s):
  • Frank MacHenry Niernsee
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Columbia, South Carolina
  • Architect
NC Work Locations:
  • Columbus, Polk County
  • Polk
Building Types:
  • Residential


Frank (Francis) Niernsee (1849-1899), was an architect and engineer who practiced chiefly in Baltimore, Maryland, and in Virginia and South Carolina. He is reported to have designed the Theodore B. Lyman House in western North Carolina, not far from the South Carolina line, and may have designed other houses in the state.

Frank Niernsee was the son of John Rudolph Niernsee and Emily Bradenbaugh Niernsee. At the time of his birth, the family was living in Baltimore. The elder Niernsee, a native of Vienna, Austria, was a practicing architect. In 1853 he was appointed architect of the new State House in Columbia, South Carolina, and the family moved to Columbia for the project. They lived there until 1865, when General William T. Sherman's forces bombed the uncompleted State House and destroyed John Niernsee's papers. The architect then returned to Baltimore to resume his practice.

The younger Niernsee served in the Civil War as a courier for the Confederacy. He was educated at the University of Virginia after the war, and pursued a career as engineer and architect in Maryland and Virginia, working for a time in his father's Baltimore office. In 1882, father and son returned to Columbia to resume work on the South Carolina State House. After John Niernsee died in 1885, Frank Niernsee was one of the architects appointed to complete the work. Niernsee continued his practice and remained in Columbia until his death; he associated with A. Gamewell Lamotte as Niernsee and Lamotte, Architects, from 1893 to 1896.

Because there were close connections between Columbia and southwestern North Carolina, it is likely that Niernsee gained work in the region. The only project thus far identified was a "Swiss Chalet and Chapel," reported in the Manufacturers' Record of March 3, 1893, as designed by Niernsee and LaMotte for Theodore B. Lyman (1815-1893). Lyman was Episcopal bishop of North Carolina for several years. A widower, he remarried at age 77 on February 6, 1893, and perhaps planned the picturesque mountain chalet and chapel with his new wife. Whether these were completed for Lyman to enjoy them before his death on December 13, 1893, is unknown.

Author: John B. Wells.

Published 2009

Building List

Theodore B. Lyman House (Columbus, Polk County)

Polk Columbus


Dates: 1893
Location: Columbus, Polk County
Street Address: Columbus, NC
Status: Unknown
  • Residential

Frank Niernsee's Work Locations


  • John M. Bryan, Creating the South Carolina State House (1999).
  • S. Allen Chambers, Lynchburg: An Architectural History (1981).
  • Christie Z. Fant, The State House of South Carolina (1970).
  • Columbia, South Carolina The State, various issues.

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