North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

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Benton, Frank W. (1883-1960)

Variant Name(s):
  • Frank Whitaker Benton
Birthplace: Wilson, North Carolina, USA
Residences:
  • Wilson, North Carolina
Trades:
  • Architect
NC Work Locations:
  • Washington, Beaufort County
  • Beaufort
  • Lenoir, Caldwell County
  • Caldwell
  • Morehead City, Carteret County
  • Carteret
  • Hickory, Catawba County
  • Catawba
  • Enfield, Halifax County
  • Halifax
  • Halifax, Halifax County
  • Halifax
  • Selma, Johnston County
  • Johnston
  • Kinston, Lenoir County
  • Lenoir
  • Rocky Mount, Nash County
  • Nash
  • Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County
  • Pasquotank
  • Ayden, Pitt County
  • Pitt
  • Farmville, Pitt County
  • Pitt
  • Greenville, Pitt County
  • Pitt
  • Plymouth, Washington County
  • Washington
  • Wilson, Wilson County
  • Wilson
Building Types:
  • Commercial;
  • Health Care;
  • Public;
  • Religious;
  • Residential
Styles & Forms:
  • Art Deco;
  • Colonial Revival;
  • Mission;
  • Modernist

Municipal Building [Wilson]

View larger image and credits

Municipal Building [Wilson]

Biography

Frank W. (Whitaker) Benton (1883-1960) was an architect headquartered in Wilson, North Carolina, who along with his brother Charles C. Benton, Sr formed the prolific firm of Benton and Benton. During their partnership from 1915 to 1935, the Bentons designed buildings of nearly every type—residences, banks, churches, and civic buildings—and encompassed much of eastern North Carolina and reached westward into the foothills. Although the firm specialized in neoclassical and Colonial Revival buildings, Frank favored streamlined and Art Deco modes, and after he began his own practice in 1935, many of his buildings exemplified these trends.

Frank W. Benton was born in Wilson about 1883, one of at least seven children of Henry Benton, a mechanic (perhaps meaning a builder in the parlance of the day), and Margaret Whitaker Benton. His early life and work have not been documented, nor is it known how either he or his younger brother Charles gained training or experience in architecture. By 1910 Frank and Charles, both identified as architects, were living in Wilson with their widowed mother. Although Charles married in 1911, Frank remained single through 1920 but by 1930 had married his wife Helen. (Frank's middle name has sometimes been given as Warthall, but both his World War I draft registration form and his death certificate show it as Whitaker.)

Compared to the numerous works cited to Charles in the early years of the century, little is known of Frank's architectural activities before 1915. In that year, Charles dissolved his partnership with Solon B. Moore and entered into a partnership with Frank as Benton and Benton. Whereas much of Charles's earlier work had been relatively local, the brothers developed a broad regional practice. Because no records of the firm's operation are known to survive, the division of work between the two brothers is not known.

The firm of Benton and Benton, which continued from 1915 to 1935, proved highly prolific. Taking advantage of the growing demand for substantial buildings in many small and middle-sized communities, the firm gained commissions that extended from Elizabeth City in the northeastern part of the state to as far west as North Wilkesboro and Morganton. Seldom taking projects in larger cities, the firm found a profitable niche in county seats and market towns. Their designs and their services suited a wide range of clients from homeowners to civic officials. for whom they planned handsome and relatively conservative versions of prevailing architectural forms and styles. (An exception came in the early 1920s: according to research by John E. Wells, by 1921 Benton and Benton had an office in Richmond, Virginia, which became Benton and Bengston [for associate Luther Bengston] in 1922 and closed by 1925.)

Benton and Benton developed a strong reputation in various classical and Colonial Revival modes popular in the region. For the modestly budgeted courthouses in Montgomery and Washington counties and elsewhere they employed the symmetrical forms and prominent porticoes that were the norm in the period. The firm also designed a number of reassuringly monumental neoclassical banks that asserted a new presence in many towns: typically located on prominent downtown corners, these banks presented a columned, vault-like façade or entrance to the main street and had classical pilasters along the side street. Benton and Benton and later Benton and Son(s) planned residences in a range of popular styles, including columned "Southern Colonial" and other Colonial Revival modes, as well as substantial bungalows with bold Craftsman detailing, such as the Lloyd and Lillian Turnage House in Ayden; Benton and Benton's blueprints for the latter, held at the Special Collections Research Center at North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina, are among the few drawings by the Benton firms known to survive. Despite the onset of Great Depression, the partnership continued until 1935, when the brothers went their own ways.

While Charles established a partnership with his sons Charles and Henry, Frank W. Benton continued to practice on his own, chiefly in Wilson. Although he continued to produce classical and colonial styles, his modernist designs are especially notable for their time and place. His WPA-assisted projects include the Colonial Revival style Wilson County Public Library and the more modernist Wilson Municipal Building (1938). He also designed the locally exceptional modernist Cornelius Sarvis Bass House in the 1940s. Frank retired from the profession several years before his death on December 15, 1960. No job list for Benton's practice is known to exist, and scarcely any drawings or other records survive. Further information is sought.

Author: Kate Ohno. Update: Catherine W. Bishir.

Published 2012

Building List

Christ Episcopal Church Parish House (Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County)

Pasquotank Elizabeth City

1925

Contributors:
Dates: 1925-1926
Location: Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County
Street Address: 200 S. McMorrine St., Elizabeth City, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Religious
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
  • Thomas R. Butchko, On the Shores of the Pasquotank: The Architectural Heritage of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, North Carolina (1989).
Note:

The Tudor Revival style building harmonizes with the antebellum Gothic Revival church by J. Crawford Neilson.

Wilson Municipal Building (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1938

Contributors:
Dates: 1938
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: 112 N. Goldsboro St., Wilson, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Public
Images Published In:
  • Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
Note:

WPA funding assisted construction of the streamlined building with Art Deco detail. Frank W. Benton has been identified as architect.

Wilson Municipal Building

Wilson Recreation Center and Bath Houses (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1938

Contributors:
Dates: 1938
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: 500 Sunset Rd., Wilson, NC
Status: Altered
Type:
  • Recreational

Wilson County Public Library (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1938

Contributors:
Dates: 1938
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: 249 Nash St. West, Wilson, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Educational

Cornelius Sarvis Bass House (Wilson, Wilson County)

Wilson Wilson

1940

Contributors:
Dates: 1940s
Location: Wilson, Wilson County
Street Address: 927 Raleigh Rd., Wilson, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

A striking and locally unusual example of the moderne style, with streamlined forms and a flat roof in white-painted stucco.

Washington County Courthouse (Plymouth, Washington County)

Washington Plymouth

1918

Contributors:
Dates: 1918-1919
Location: Plymouth, Washington County
Street Address: NE corner of Adams St. and Main St., Plymouth, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Public

Washington County Courthouse

Lloyd and Lillian Turnage House (Ayden, Pitt County)

Pitt Ayden

1922

Contributors:
Dates: 1922
Location: Ayden, Pitt County
Street Address: 811 W. 3rd St., Ayden, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
  • Scott Power, The Historical Architecture of Pitt County, North Carolina (1991).
Note:

The especially well-detailed bungalow has a deep porch that extends as a porte cochere. Drawings (blueprints) and specifications for the house are in the Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Lloyd and Lillian Turnage House

Bank of Farmville (Farmville, Pitt County)

Pitt Farmville

1921

Contributors:
Dates: 1921
Location: Farmville, Pitt County
Street Address: 129 S. Main St., Farmville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
  • Scott Power, The Historical Architecture of Pitt County, North Carolina (1991).
Note:

This is one of the firm's several neoclassical banks designed to take advantage of their prominent corner locations, here with a full-height Doric portico in antis and pilasters along the side.

Bank of Farmville

William H. and Jennie M. Long House (Greenville, Pitt County)

Pitt Greenville

1917

Contributors:
Dates: 1917-1918
Location: Greenville, Pitt County
Street Address: 200 E. 4th St., Greenville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Michael Cotter, Kate Ohno, and Mary Hollis Barnes, The Architectural Heritage of Greenville, North Carolina (1989).
Note:

Among the grandest residences in Greenville, the Colonial Revival style brick house features a large portico with columns in the Tower of the Winds order.

Greenville Bus Station (Greenville, Pitt County)

Pitt Greenville

1941

Contributors:
Dates: 1941
Location: Greenville, Pitt County
Street Address: 310 W. 5th St., Greenville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Transportation
Note:

The moderne style bus station is one of the few surviving examples of this once popular type remaining in North Carolina. Plans and specifications (location unknown) are dated 1941.

Greenville Municipal Building (Greenville, Pitt County)

Pitt Greenville

1939

Contributors:
Dates: 1939
Location: Greenville, Pitt County
Street Address: SW corner of 5th St. and Washington St, Greenville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Public
Images Published In:
  • Michael Cotter, Kate Ohno, and Mary Hollis Barnes, The Architectural Heritage of Greenville, North Carolina (1989).
Note:

One of Frank Benton's most imposing designs of the late 1930s, the stone-faced building combines symmetrical massing with Art Deco detail.

Albion Dunn House (Greenville, Pitt County)

Pitt Greenville

1919

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1919
Location: Greenville, Pitt County
Street Address: 707 W. 4th St., Greenville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Michael Cotter, Kate Ohno, and Mary Hollis Barnes, The Architectural Heritage of Greenville, North Carolina (1989).

Fire Engine Company No. 2 Building (Rocky Mount, Nash County)

Nash Rocky Mount

1924

Contributors:
Dates: 1924
Location: Rocky Mount, Nash County
Street Address: 404 S. Church St., Rocky Mount, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Public
Note:

A brick building with stone-framed fire engine doors and a tile roof.

Farmers and Merchants Bank (Kinston, Lenoir County)

Lenoir Kinston

1924

Contributors:
Dates: 1924
Location: Kinston, Lenoir County
Street Address: 200 N. Queen St., Kinston, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Images Published In:
  • M. Ruth Little, Coastal Plain and Fancy: The Historic Architecture of Lenoir County and Kinston, North Carolina (1998).
Note:

The lower portion of the bank displays an Ionic-columned entrance in antis typical of the firm's banks of the period, but the building's 5-story height reads as a small skyscraper, unusual in eastern North Carolina's small towns and indicative of Kinston's stature as a market town. In its day it was the tallest structure in town. Local accounts indicate that the building had the first registered elevator in the state, designated Elevator No. 1 by the State of North Carolina. The postcard view of Queen St. shows the bank as the tallest building on the left side of the street.

Kinston Union Station (Kinston, Lenoir County)

Lenoir Kinston

1924

Contributors:
Dates: 1924
Location: Kinston, Lenoir County
Street Address: E. Caswell St. at Davis St., Kinston, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Transportation
Note:

The postcard view of the station features a rare example of a drawing signed by Benton and Benton.

Kinston Union Station

Selma Graded School (Selma, Johnston County)

Johnston Selma

1922

Contributors:
Dates: 1922
Location: Selma, Johnston County
Street Address: W. Richardson St., Selma, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Educational

Selma Graded School

Enfield Masonic Temple (Enfield, Halifax County)

Halifax Enfield

1924

Contributors:
Dates: 1924-1925
Location: Enfield, Halifax County
Street Address: S.E. Railroad St. at Market St., Enfield, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Fraternal
Images Published In:
  • Henry V. Taves, The Historic Architecture of Halifax County, North Carolina (2010).
Note:

The 3 1/2-story building in blond brick overlooks the railroad and dominates the downtown streetscape.

Enfield Masonic Temple

Halifax County Home and Tubercular Hospital (Halifax, Halifax County)

Halifax Halifax

1923

Contributors:
Dates: 1923
Location: Halifax, Halifax County
Street Address: NC 903, Halifax vicinity, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Public
Images Published In:
  • Henry V. Taves, The Historic Architecture of Halifax County, North Carolina (2010).
Note:

The firm employed a symmetrical design in Colonial Revival style for the building, one of several such facilities for care of the poor and the sick in the early 20th century.

Hickory Drugstore (Hickory, Catawba County)

Catawba Hickory

1924

Contributors:
Dates: 1924
Location: Hickory, Catawba County
Street Address: Hickory, NC
Status: Unknown
Type:
  • Commercial
Note:

The Manufacturers' Record in 1924 noted that Benton and Benton were architects for a drugstore in Hickory, which was to feature ornamental terra cotta.

Morehead City Hospital (Morehead City, Carteret County)

Carteret Morehead City

1918

Contributors:
Dates: 1918
Location: Morehead City, Carteret County
Street Address: 9th St. and Shackleford St., Morehead City, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Health Care
Note:

The Manufacturers' Record of April 18, 1918, reported that the Morehead City Hospital had plans by Benton and Benton, Wilson for a general hospital building at 9th St. and Shackleford St.; 80 x 80 ft., brick; slate roof; wood floors; cost $15,000; steam heat; $3000; electric lights $1000; electric elevator $1200 bids to be opened April 23 or 24; construction to begin May 1. The hospital was founded by Dr. Ben Royal, who had begun a smaller facility in 1911. The red brick hospital overlooked the water.

Morehead City Hospital

Lenoir High School (Lenoir, Caldwell County)

Caldwell Lenoir

1922

Contributors:
Dates: 1922
Location: Lenoir, Caldwell County
Street Address: 100 Willow St., Lenoir, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Educational
Note:

Typical of the consolidated high schools of its era, the large brick building, 220 feet long, features classical detailing.

Lenoir High School

Bank of Washington (Washington, Beaufort County)

Beaufort Washington

1920

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1920
Location: Washington, Beaufort County
Street Address: 192 W. Main St., Washington, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Note:

Successor to the first, antebellum Bank of Washington, which still stands a short distance away, the four-story brick and stone bank features large Doric columns in antis.

Bowers-Tripp House (Washington, Beaufort County)

Beaufort Washington

1921

Contributors:
Dates: 1921
Location: Washington, Beaufort County
Street Address: 1040 N. Market St., Washington, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

The large residence in tan brick shows the firm's favored Colonial Revival style.

Frank W. Benton's Work Locations

Bibliography

  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
  • M. Ruth Little, Coastal Plain and Fancy: The Historic Architecture of Lenoir County and Kinston, North Carolina (1998).
  • Manufacturers' Record, various issues.
  • Kate Ohno, Wilson County's Architectural Heritage (1981).
  • Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
  • Scott Power, The Historical Architecture of Pitt County, North Carolina (1991).
  • Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • John E. Wells and Robert E. Dalton, The Virginia Architects, 1835-1955: A Biographical Dictionary (1997).
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