North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

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Westall, J. M. (1861-1943)

Variant Name(s):
  • James M. Westall;
  • James Manassas Westall
Birthplace: Buncombe County, North Carolina, USA
Residences:
  • Asheville, North Carolina
Trades:
  • Builder;
  • Contractor
NC Work Locations:
  • Asheville, Buncombe County
  • Buncombe
Building Types:
  • Commercial;
  • Public;
  • Religious;
  • Residential
Styles & Forms:
  • Colonial Revival;
  • Craftsman;
  • Gothic Revival;
  • Romanesque Revival;
  • Tudor Revival

Drhumor Building [Asheville]

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Drhumor Building [Asheville]

Biography

James Manassas Westall (September 11, 1861-January 1, 1943), a "pioneer builder" in Asheville, was a contractor who erected many of the city's railroad boom era buildings before retiring to operate a building supply business. He was one of several men from the "first families" of western North Carolina who became leaders in the building trades as the region developed. He and his firm erected buildings in many different styles, sometimes from his own plans or other examples, and often from designs by the city's leading architects such as Richard Sharp Smith and A. L. Melton.

According to his obituary, James M. Westall was born in the Swannanoa Township of Buncombe County to a family of "prominent pioneer families" in western North Carolina. Born on September 11, 1861, he was given his middle name for the first Battle of Manassas (Bull Run to the Yankees), a Confederate victory fought in Virginia on July 21, 1861. He was one of several children of Thomas C. and Martha Penland Westall, whose other children included Julia Westall Wolfe (the mother of author Thomas Wolfe) and W. H. Westall, who founded a building supply company in Asheville. In 1884 James Westall married Minnie White (d. 1934), and they too had a large family.

During Asheville's stunning growth period from arrival of the Western North Carolina Railroad in the 1880s into the early 20th century, J. M. Westall was one of the city's most prolific building contractors. He along with several other skilled and ambitious builders, together with celebrated architects of the era, were essential to creating the city's remarkable late 19th century and early 20th century architecture.

Westall erected several buildings designed by Richard Sharp Smith, who had been superintending architect at George Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate (see Richard Morris Hunt) and established a permanent practice in Asheville. At Biltmore Village, which Vanderbilt established at the railroad stop near Biltmore Estate, Westall built several cottages and other structures in the "Biltmore style" with rough-cast and half-timbered work from Smith's designs and possibly those of Hunt and Hunt's son, Richard H. Hunt.

Westall also constructed other Asheville houses designed by Smith or inspired by Smith's style, including some residences on Merrimon Avenue and in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood, including the picturesque David Cottages from Smith's plans. Moreover—so Smith claimed—Westall copied the architect's designs in houses he built on his own without Smith's authorization or credit to Smith. (Their dispute indicates one avenue by which the Smith-influenced picturesque style proliferated in the city.) Among Smith's grandest houses attributed to builder Westall is the Carl V. Reynolds House in Colonial Revival style, with a bowed staircase landing which has been described as a hallmark of Westall's work.

Westall built many other substantial edifices in Asheville, some of which were noted in his obituary. Of these, the Bingham Military Academy, the Paragon Building, and the City Auditorium are lost. Among his surviving buildings, especially notable examples include the Drhumor Building, a brick commercial building designed by architect A. L. Melton and adorned by vivid stonework by stonecutter Frederick B. Miles who had worked at Biltmore; and the large, towered Central Methodist Episcopal Church, planned by leading church architect Reuben H. Hunt of Tennessee, plus numerous residences.

In 1906, Westall founded a building supply firm, J. M. Westall and Company, which was one of the largest and longest-lived in the city, with a facility downtown and a lumberyard at the intersection of the Southern Railroad and Haywood Road. Throughout his long life, Westall also took a role in local civic and business affairs, including service on the board of alderman and vice mayor. He had a longstanding interest in promoting the scenic and healthful qualities of Western North Carolina. In 1910, he was joined in the building supply business by his son, James Frederick ("Jack") Westall. Jack, described in 1912 as "one of the hustling young business men of the city," operated the J. M. Westall Lumber Company for many years and became a leader in local politics. The firm continued in the family for many years.

Reports of Westall's projects cite numerous buildings that have not yet been confirmed. Most of those built in the late 19th century probably have been lost. These references from newspaper articles and the Manufacturers' Record include the following: a building for Carter (1885); building for Johnston (1885); building for Patton (1886); building for T. S. Morrison (1887); building for Edwin H. Herrick (1888?); Watson House, 1889, 56 French Broad; Capt. W. J. Cock House, 1889, 157 French Broad; Dr. T. C. Smith House, 1890, 184 E. Chestnut; Capt. F. D. Johnston, 1890, brick store, corner of Main and public square; Dr. F. T. Merriweather House, 1890, 44 Grove; Bingham Military Academy, 1891 (MR, 4/11/1891); MacNaughton House (1891); Bryan House (1891); Pearson Cottages (3), 1891, Spruce St.; School House, 1892; J. W. Sluder, 1892, French Broad; Hampton House, 1892, 81 Haywood St.; Building for Woolsey, 1893; G. A. Greer, 1893, 89 Chestnut St.; W. T. Weaver, 1893, Merrimon Ave.; William J. Cock House, 1896, 167 French Broad; J. A. Porter House, 1897, 85 Merrimon Ave.; T. S. Morrison, 1897, Pearson Dr.; building for Tench Coxe, 1898; building for W. F. Graham, 1899; First Presbyterian Church, Pastor's Study, 1900, Church St.

Author: Catherine W. Bishir. Contributor: Zoe Rhine.

Published 2009

Building List

Biltmore Village (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1889

Contributors:
Dates: 1889-1910
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: Asheville vicinity, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial;
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
  • Douglas Swaim, ed., Cabins and Castles: The History and Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1981).
Note:

George Vanderbilt planned a manorial village outside the gates of the Biltmore Estate and had Frederick Law Olmsted lay it out. Richard Morris Hunt designed some of the original buildings, including the Railroad Depot, Estate Office, and All Souls Church. Most of these featured brickwork combined with stucco or "pebbledash," and some had half-timbering. They continued the "estate style" of the farm buildings at Biltmore. After the older Hunt's death, Richard Howland Hunt and Richard Sharp Smith continued to design the buildings that composed the picturesque village, most of which survives to the present. A similar style was used by Smith at the YMI Building in Asheville for the estate's black workers, sponsored by Vanderbilt. Among the buildings in Biltmore Village that have been credited to the contracting firm of J. M. Westall are the following: Cottage H, Cottage L. Cottage Z (Swann St.), Barber Shop, Swannanoa Lodge and Office (Biltmore Ticket Office), Biltmore Schoolhouse.

Biltmore Village

W. O. Wolfe House (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1890

Contributors:
Dates: 1890
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 92 Woodfin St., Asheville, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

Built for W. O. Wolfe, this was the house where his son Thomas Wolfe was born. In 1906, the 6-year-old boy moved with his mother, Julia, to the boarding house on Spruce Street which she operated and where he grew up and used as a setting for his novels. The house on Spruce Street is preserved and open to the public as a State Historic Site.

Drhumor Building (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1895

Contributors:
Dates: 1895
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: Patton Ave. at Church St., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
Note:

The Asheville Citizen of Feb. 28, 1960, described a fragment of stone carving which had been removed from the Drhumor Building (then the Wachovia Bank) and embedded in a wall: "The fragmentary carving depicts a sea goddess with a sailing vessel in the background. It is the work of Fred Miles, an Englishman who came to Asheville in 1891 to work on the Biltmore House. About 1900, Fred Miles and Samuel I. Bean, a stone mason who also came here to work on the mansion, went into business together. According to Carl and Ervin Bean, sons of S.I. Bean, the carving, about two feet high was part of the Wachovia Bank building before it was remodeled." Frederick B. Miles, a native of England, was listed in the 1896 Asheville City Directory as a sculptor but left the community soon after this. The building originally had a tower atop the corner bay. That feature was removed in the 20th century, and the entrance was shifted to Patton Avenue and given a large arched frame.

Drhumor Building

Lambert House (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1896

Contributors:
Dates: 1896
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 166 E. Chestnut St., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

The 2-story, shingled and roughcast stuccoed residence was one of architect Smith's first commissions after he completed work for Vanderbilt. It set the tone for his many other commissions, including those built by Westall's firm.

Lambert House

David Cottages (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1897

Contributors:
Dates: 1897-1899
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 138, 144, 156, and 160 E. Chestnut St., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

It is believed that Smith designed and Westall built these picturesque rental houses in hybrid Craftsman styles. Not long after this, Smith was involved in a dispute with Westall, whom he accused of having copied his building style without giving due credit.

David Cottages

City Auditorium (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1902

Contributors:
Dates: 1902
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: Asheville, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Public

YMCA (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1902

Contributors:
Dates: 1902-1903
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: Haywood St., Asheville, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Recreational
Note:

The Manufacturers' Record (Aug. 29, 1901) reported that R. S. Smith had drawn plans for a YMCA Building, which was to be built by Westall.

Central Methodist Episcopal Church (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1900

Variant Name(s):
  • Central United Methodist Church
Contributors:
Dates: 1900-1905; 1924 [addition]
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 27 Church St., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Religious
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
Note:

Asheville's Methodist congregation began fundraising for a new church in 1899 and soon commissioned a design from Hunt. On August 1, 1901, the Asheville Citizen reported that Hunt had visited Asheville recently, "bringing with him the plans and specifications for the proposed structure," from which the paper printed an illustration. The Manufacturers' Record of Sept. 5, 1901, reported that the congregation had let the contract to Asheville builder J. M. Westall. A delay ensued when the quarterly Methodist conference advised abandoning the project, but the congregation persisted. In 1902 the plans were returned to Hunt for changes suggested by a new building committee, and Westall was engaged to superintend construction. The final design was similar to the original but adjusted to reduce the cost estimate from about $60,000 to $50,000. The cornerstone was laid on August 25, 1902; the Sunday school was ready for use in 1904; and the first service was held in the auditorium on November 5, 1905. Hunt subsequently planned a 1924 renovation and expansion (costing more than $200,000) including a large Sunday school addition.

Central Methodist Episcopal Church

Carl V. Reynolds House (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1909

Variant Name(s):
  • Albemarle Inn
Contributors:
Dates: 1909
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 86 Edgemont Rd., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

The large, Colonial Revival style house has been credited to Westall, though it postdates his transition from contracting to manufacturing.

J. M. Westall's Work Locations

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