North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

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Lipscomb, Oswald (1826-1891)

Variant Name(s):
  • Oswald Lipscombe
Birthplace: Virginia, USA
Residences:
  • Wilson, North Carolina
Trades:
  • Carpenter/Joiner
NC Work Locations:
  • Stantonsburg, Greene County
  • Greene
  • Wilson County
  • Wilson
  • Wilson, Wilson County
  • Wilson
Building Types:
  • Religious;
  • Residential
Styles & Forms:
  • Gothic Revival;
  • Italianate

Moses Rountree House [Wilson]

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Moses Rountree House [Wilson]

Biography

Oswald Lipscomb (July 26, 1826-Feb. 3, 1891) was a carpenter from Virginia who came to North Carolina as a young man and became a leading builder in the newly chartered railroad town of Wilson, specializing in the picturesque residential styles popular in the mid-19th century.

Oswald Lipscomb is described as a son of Reuben and Elizabeth Lipscomb (possibly the Reuben Lipscomb listed in the United States Census of 1830 as head a large household in Prince William County, Virginia). His early training and life are not known. He may have been related to George B. Lipscomb and Oscar Lipscomb, both carpenters from Virginia, who came to North Carolina and practiced their trades in Tarboro and Raleigh, respectively. Although some sources cite Oswald as an "architect," he was like many of his contemporaries (see Jacob W. Holt, for example), a practical builder who designed as well as built houses, using current architectural books for inspiration for stylish motifs.

Lipscomb is believed to have arrived in Wilson in 1849, the year when the railroad and market town was chartered. Formerly known as Toisnot, a stop in Edgecombe County on the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, the newly incorporated railroad and market town offered many opportunities for builders. In 1850 the United States census listed Lipscomb, an unmarried carpenter aged 25, living in the Edgecombe County household of merchant W. S. Thorn, along with another carpenter from Virginia, T. W. Ellis, aged 30. Five years later, Wilson became the county seat of Wilson County, which was formed in 1855 from portions of Edgecombe, Johnston, Nash, and Wayne counties.

Lipscomb soon established himself as a successful citizen. He married well, wedding in 1855 Penelope Rountree, daughter of a prominent and wealthy merchant, and they had two children, James and Penelope, before the mother died. Their son James went to live for a time with his uncle, James Rountree, and like his uncle became involved in the local textile industry. In 1860 Oswald Lipscomb, aged 34, headed a household that included only himself and 8-year-old Penelope. Though a carpenter by trade, he had moved into the land and slaveholding class and identified himself as a farmer, with his real estate valued at $5,000: between 1855 and 1858 Lipscomb had bought several town lots and a 345-acre farm. His personal property was valued at $17,960, much of which represented his ownership of 9 slaves, including 5 men ranging from 20 to 71 years of age, a woman of 17, and three children. By 1861, he sold his real estate including the farm for over $10,000; he may have sold his slaves as well.

After the Civil War, Oswald Lipscomb remarried on March 11, 1869, taking as his wife Sarah (Sallie) A. Barnes of another prosperous Wilson family. The 1870 census showed Oswald, 44, and Sarah, 28, residing in Wilson in a boarding house along with a physician and a minister. Having adapted like several other builders to the postwar economy (see Wilson and Waddell for example), the entrepreneurial Lipscomb now owned a steam-powered sash and blind factory which in 1870 employed 8 hands and produced planed lumber, doors, blinds, and other items worth $4,000 per year. In 1872 Branson's North Carolina Business Directory listed Lipscomb as a "House Builder" and in 1877-1878 noted him under manufacturers as O. Lipscomb and Company, Contracting and Building. In 1874 he had gone into business with his brother-in-law J. T. Barnes, and the directory of 1884 listed "Barnes and Lipscomb, Building and Contracting" and "Barnes and Lipscomb, Planing Mill." The census of 1880 showed Oswald and Sallie Lipscomb with a household that included her mother, Theresa Barnes; a niece, Blanch Barnes, aged 9; and Oswald's son James, aged 19 and a clerk in a store. Oswald was listed as a farmer and a mechanic ("mechanic" meaning a skilled craftsman in a variety of trades, especially building). In the 1880s Lipscomb sold his interest in the firm to Barnes because of his failing health, and he died in 1891.

During his career that began in Wilson's infancy, Lipscomb did much to define the 19th century architectural character of his adopted home. Establishing a locally recognized signature style, he favored the picturesque modes that were popular from the 1850s into the 1870s, especially the Gothic Revival cottage style. An early history of the town, Daisy Gold's A Town Named Wilson (1925) noted that Lipscomb "left his individual type of architecture in his limited territory as completely as did more famous architects in a wider field." Gold listed six houses in Wilson as his work based on information from local informants: the Billy Winstead House, Albert Farmer House, Davis-Whitehead House, George Blount House, and the Moses Rountree House, plus the Ruffin-Farmer-Dawson House in nearby Greene County. All were built in the 1850s except the Rountree House of ca. 1870. (These houses and a few others with family connections are identified in the building list as his work, while for others linked by stylistic traits he is noted as "attributed" builder. Further documentation may substantiate these and other projects.)

These houses displayed the picturesque or Gothic cottage style popularized by A. J. Downing, Calvert Vaux, and other publishers of architectural books. In contrast to the asymmetrical massing of some such cottages, Lipscomb's houses in the style typically took a symmetrical form and featured a trio of steeply pointed gables across the front façade, pointed or triangular-headed windows, and in some cases, board and batten covered walls. He frequently employed sawnwork lattice porch treatments that carried out the picturesque effect. Besides his examples in Wilson, he built at least two such houses in the countryside, the Jesse Norris Housein Wilson County and the Ruffin-Farmer-Dawson House in Greene. Notably, his contemporary (and probable kinsman) George B. Lipscomb and other carpenters built in similar fashion in nearby Tarboro during the same period.

After the war, as Wilson's economy and merchants recovered and prospered, Lipscomb continued to build picturesque residences, often featuring the popular bracketed Italianate style. These ranged from his own modest Oswald Lipscomb House to the imposing Barnes-Bruton House in Italianate villa style, built for Lipscomb's brother-in-law. Other houses in the decorative modes of the era have been attributed to his shop, such as the Alpheus Branch House II and the Frank W. Barnes House.

For several decades, Lipscomb's stylish and well-built residences gave Wilson's West Nash Street between Pine Street and Raleigh Road much of its architectural distinction as one of the state's prime 19th century residential avenues. Beginning about 1950 and continuing into the 1970s, however, changes in taste and, especially, rezoning and expansion of non-residential uses westward from downtown resulted in the demolition of most of the town's notable Victorian architecture. Today the few surviving examples are treasured as landmarks of the community's 19th-century heritage.

Authors: Kate Ohno, Robert C. Bainbridge, and Catherine W. Bishir.

Published 2012

Building List

Moses Rountree House (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1869

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1869
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: 107 N. Rountree St., Wilson, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
Note:

Of several Gothic cottage residences Lipscomb built in Wilson, this is the only one that remains essentially intact. Built for Lipscomb's brother-in-law, merchant Moses Rountree, it stood on property Rountree purchased in 1869 and faced Nash St. It was moved to this address ca. 1890. The lattice porch is believed to date from ca. 1900, though stylistically it resembles original porches on houses of this type.

Moses Rountree House

Davis-Whitehead House (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1860

Variant Name(s):
  • James Davis House
Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1860; ca. 1872 (remodeled)
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: 600 W. Nash St., Wilson, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
Note:

About 1872, according to local tradition, Oswald Lipscomb remodeled the existing ca. 1860 house into an elaborate Italianate residence.

Blount-McLean House (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1850

Variant Name(s):
  • George Blount House
Contributors:
Dates: 1850s
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: 223 W. Nash St., Wilson, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
Note:

Cited by Daisy Gold as Lipscomb's work, the classic Gothic cottage in Lipscomb's signature style was torn down in the 1970s.

Alpheus Branch House (I) (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1850

Contributors:
Dates: 1850s
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: W. Nash St. and Tarboro St., Wilson, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
Note:

A towered Italianate house built for a leading merchant and banker, it featured board and batten covered walls and heavy brackets.

Frank Barnes House (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1874

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1874
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: 701 W. Nash St., Wilson, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
Note:

The symmetrical Italianate house, razed in 1979, was one of numerous Victorian residences Wilson lost in the mid to late 20th century.

Barnes-Bruton House (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1874

Variant Name(s):
  • J. T. Barnes House
Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1874
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: W. Nash St., Wilson, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
Note:

Built for Lipscomb's brother-in-law J. T. Barnes, the ornate Italianate-style Barnes-Bruton House had a central tower and retained its original porch. Its massing is similar to the Frank Barnes House.

Billy Winstead House (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1850

Contributors:
Dates: 1850s
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: Wilson, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

Cited by Daisy Gold as Lipscomb's work, the house is believed to have been moved to the corner of Lee St. and Tarboro St.

Albert Farmer House (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1850

Contributors:
Dates: 1850s
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: Goldsboro St., Wilson, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

Cited by Daisy Gold as Lipscomb's work.

Alpheus Branch House (II) (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1885

Contributors:
Dates: 1885
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: W. Nash St. and Park Ave., Wilson, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
Note:

One of two ornate residences built for merchant and banker Alpheus Branch, the 1885 mansion featured Italianate detailing and a Second Empire-style tower. It has been attributed to Lipscomb.

George D. Green House (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1890

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1890s
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: Wilson, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Residential

Ruffin-Farmer-Dawson House (Stantonsburg, Greene County)

Greene Stantonsburg

1850

Variant Name(s):
  • Dred Ruffin House
Contributors:
Dates: 1850s
Location: Stantonsburg, Greene County
Street Address: Stantonsburg-Snow Hill Rd. (SR 1234)
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Penne Smith Sandbeck, Greene along Contentnea: The Architectural History of Greene County, North Carolina (2009).
Note:

Cited by Daisy Gold as Lipscomb's work, the house built for planter Etheldred F. Ruffin by 1860 typifies his Gothic cottage type and is one of the most intact examples, with characteristic board and batten covered walls, a trio of steep gables along the front façade, and pointed upper windows. This is one of several picturesque houses in the county; whether any others are Lipscomb's work is not known.

Jesse Norris House (Wilson County)

Wilson

1850

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1850
Location: Wilson County
Street Address: Wilson County, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Kate Ohno, Wilson County's Architectural Heritage (1981).
Note:

Although lacking its original sawnwork porch, the picturesque cottage is otherwise intact, with board and batten wall covering and steep gables with pointed windows.

Oswald Lipscomb House (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1871

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1871
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: 213 N. Pine St., Wilson, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
Note:

The modest frame house with bracketed eaves was built by Lipscomb for his own family.

Oswald Lipscomb's Work Locations

Bibliography

  • Robert C. Bainbridge, "Historical Sketch of the Oswald Lipscomb Home and Property," undated typescript report.
  • Daisy Hendley Gold, A Town Called Wilson (1925).
  • Kate Ohno, Wilson County's Architectural Heritage (1981).
  • Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
  • Penne Smith Sandbeck, Greene along Contentnea: The Architectural History of Greene County, North Carolina (2009).
  • United States Censuses.
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