Atkins, Rhodham (d. 1802)
Rhodham Atkins (d. January 18, 1802), carpenter, is best known as builder of the State House (1792-1795) in Raleigh. A native of Massachusetts, he was in Wake County, North Carolina by 1790 when he apprenticed Ephraim Rogers to the house carpenter’s and joiner’s trade. He acquired land in Wake and Franklin counties and owned slaves including Stephen, a millwright and carpenter.
In 1792, Atkins was one of five men who met on June 6 to bid on construction of the State House. The edifice, located on the central Union Square, was to house the new state government and the legislature in the newly established capital of Raleigh. Following the American Revolution, the state lacked money, and the legislature was wary of any extravagance. Commissioners appointed by the legislature had settled on a plan for a brick building 110 by 52 feet, to cost no more than £10,000. The potential bidders all agreed that such a building could not be built for the price, and some simply left. After the commissioners decided to see who would do the most for the money, Atkins won the job, proposing to build it for the price except for finishing the lower rooms. He named as securities locally prominent men, Joel and Henry Lane, James Hinton, and Theophilus Hunter, Jr.
Detailed specifications for the State House describe a building with outside walls of “good and well burnt” bricks laid in mortar of 2 parts lime to 1 part sand or “loom,” and with a hip roof braced with iron and covered in cypress shingles to be painted “some lively colours.” Within was to be an “elegant” stair; passages and legislative chambers enriched with a modillion “cornish” and a wainscot; and smaller rooms with chair and wash boards only. Rooms were to be plastered and painted in “various colors.” (The specifications are in the Cameron Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, in the records of Richard Bennehan, one of the building commissioners.)
Atkins was in charge of the whole project, including assembling materials (at one time he had six brickyards in operation); managing the work force; and doing some drafting. In November 1792, the legislature realized the building might be too plain and asked him for a “just and true plan of the building.” That body then requested him to add a “frontispiece” on the east and west sides, akin to the public buildings (such as Tryon Palace) in New Bern, to “add greatly to the benefit and Elegance of the building.” It cost an extra £500. During construction, various politicians attacked or defended Atkins’s work. Construction was completed in 1795. Although Atkins fulfilled the job assigned, the State House was later castigated for its plainness. It was subsequently remodeled by William Nichols, then burned in 1831.
Atkins also worked on Raleigh houses for such political figures as William R. Davie and state treasurer John Haywood, but these do not survive. He was occasionally embroiled in partisan political conflicts of the day. He was a member of the Democratic Lodge. In 1795, he opened a “genteel house of entertainment” on Blount Street. to accommodate General Assembly members. At his death in 1802 the Raleigh Register cited him as “formerly an eminent house carpenter.”
- Moses Amis, Historical Raleigh (1902).
- Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and Ernest H. Wood III, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building (1990).
- Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
- Cameron Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
- Grady Lee Ernest Carroll, Sr., They Lived In Raleigh: Some Leading Personalities from 1792 to 1892 (1977).
- Fayetteville Gazette, Aug. 9, 1793.
- Halifax N.C. Journal, Aug. 7, 1793.
- Ernest Haywood Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
- Legislative Papers, 110, 119, 123, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Elizabeth Reid Murray, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina, Vol. I, Prehistory through Centennial (1983).
- Elizabeth Reid Murray Collection, Olivia Raney Library, Wake County Public Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Raleigh Minerva, Mar. 24, 1801.
- Raleigh Register, Feb. 2, 1802.
- Dates:1792-1795; 1820-1824 [remodeled]Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:Union Square, Raleigh, NCStatus:No longer standingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and Ernest H. Wood III, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building (1990).
Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
Elizabeth Reid Murray, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina, Vol. I, Prehistory through Centennial (1983).
C. Ford Peatross, William Nichols, Architect (1979).