Walker, James (1827-1901)
James Walker (1827-1901) was a Scots-born builder, contractor, and brickmason who came to Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1857 to supervise construction of the United States Marine Hospital for his brother John Walker, the contractor for the project. James stayed in Wilmington the rest of his life, becoming one of the leading builders and a noted philanthropist in his adopted city.
According to his obituary in the Wilmington Star (March 16, 1901), James Walker emigrated from Scotland to the United States at age twelve, and worked in Washington DC and other locations. The newspaper said that Walker had resided in Wilmington since coming to the city in 1857 as “contractor and supervising architect to build the Marine Hospital.” Although in actuality his brother John had been the contractor, James was on the local scene managing the work, and doubtless was remembered locally as the contractor.
Contracts and correspondence for the Marine Hospital, which survive in the National Archives, document the Walkers’ involvement in the Wilmington project. In 1857 John Walker, then in Petersburg, Virginia, gained the Federal contract to construct the hospital, an Italianate edifice of brick, stone and iron designed by Boston architect Ammi B. Young. John Walker was then working on the Custom House in Petersburg. His winning low bid was for $28,968.25, the only one under $30,000, and considerably lower than that of popular Wilmington builder Robert B. Wood (see Wood Brothers), who bid $37,061.31 and offered letters of local support. Possibly Walker’s low bid reflected his unfamiliarity with local circumstances, most notably that because of the absence of suitable local stone, Wilmingtonians imported their building stone from the north. Although this situation was pointed out by bidder Wood and other local informants to the Federal authorities, whether the authorities or Walker took this information into consideration is an open question.
Construction on the Marine Hospital proceeded slowly, owing in part to difficulties in obtaining materials including pressed brick and iron from northern manufacturers. The major problem proved to be getting the necessary stone. Eventually John Walker had to open a quarry near Petersburg, Virginia, from which to send stone to Wilmington. On June 24, 1858, the local superintendent, T. H. Ashe, reported to the secretary of the treasury, “Mr. James Walker—brother to the contractor—under whose supervision the work has been carried on—left yesterday for Petersburg to try and expedite things.” After the project was completed in 1860, John Walker evidently continued his career as a builder in other cities. James Walker, however, decided to continue in Wilmington, where he had evidently made friends and gained local respect.
Having supervised the complex Marine Hospital project, James Walker was well suited to build projects involving coordination of local artisans with designs by other urban architects. When antebellum Wilmingtonians commissioned buildings from nationally known architects, they frequently employed builders or superintending architects with urban experience to manage their projects (see James F. Post and John S. Norris). James Walker served as local architect or superintendent of construction for the ambitious First Presbyterian Church designed by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan and completed on the eve of the Civil War.
Walker continued his building career after the war. One of Wilmington’s most striking buildings of the 1870s is the Temple of Israel (1875-1876), a twin-towered edifice in bold Moorish Revival style, for which the design has been credited recently to Samuel Sloan, with James Walker as supervising architect. According to a contemporary observer, James Sprunt, Walker made some changes to the design as built.
A major opportunity came, as reported in the Wilmington Star of December 28, 1875, when Walker was appointed to serve as “Master Builder” to superintend construction of the immense and complex Western North Carolina Hospital for the Insane, designed by Samuel Sloan, and built near Morganton, North Carolina. Construction took several years (1875-1883). After Sloan’s death in 1884, Walker may have been involved in work on additions in 1886, planned by Sloan’s assistant architect A. G. Bauer. In any case, he was working outside Wilmington in the mid-1880s, for on August 4, 1887 the Wilmington Messenger noted: “Mr. James Walker, the well-known contractor, in again in this city, his former home, and is stopping at ‘the Orton’”.
Over the years, Walker built numerous Wilmington residences and commercial and institutional buildings, of which only a few have been identified. He and a partner also operated a marble yard known as Walker and Maunder.
Like many builders of his era, Walker’s professional identity and role were fluid. He was listed in the 1870 United States census as a “house builder” in Wilmington, but in the 1880 census, when he was listed in Morganton where he was working on the hospital, he was noted as an architect and builder, and he had the same identification in the 1900 census in Wilmington. Wilmington city directories generally showed him as a contractor and a builder, but in 1900 he was listed as an “architect,” with his office at 216 North Front Street and his residence at 1602 Market Street.
During his long career in Wilmington, Walker earned a reputation as “one of the most thorough and competent workmen in this section of the country.” As his obituary stated, “His personal and undivided attention was given in every detail of building which he undertook and many handsome structures in Wilmington notably the Marine Hospital, First Presbyterian Church, Y. M. C. A. building, and the splendid State Hospital for the Insane at Morganton testify that he was complete master of his profession.”
James Walker never married and he lived, according to the obituary, “a quiet, unostentatious life.” Having amassed “a fortune” as a builder, and after consultation with friends, he decided to give the city a much-needed modern hospital, which he helped build as well as funding its cost of about $30,000. The James Walker Memorial Hospital, completed shortly after his death, was named in his memory. A portrait of Walker painted by a local artist was commissioned and installed in the new facility (the painting is now at the Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington). Walker was buried in Oakdale Cemetery.
- Charlotte Vestal Brown Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Public Buildings Service, General Correspondence, Letters Received 1843-1910 (Record Group 121), Wilmington Marine Hospital, Wilmington, North Carolina.
- William Reaves Files, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, North Carolina.
- Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).
- Tony P. Wrenn, research notes for Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait, copy provided to Catherine W. Bishir.
- Contributors:Henry E. Bonitz, architect (1901; 1904); Robert Finey, brickmason (1855-1858); William Finey, brickmason (1855-1858); Joseph Keen, overseer (1855-1858); James F. Post, supervising architect (1855-1858); Price Family, plasterer (1855-1858); John M. Trimble, architect (1855-1858); James Walker, foreman and general manager (1855-1858); Wood Brothers, builders (1855-1858); John C. Wood, builder (1855-1858); Robert B. Wood, builder (1855-1858)Dates:1855-1858; 1901; 1904Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:102 N 3rd St., Wilmington, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).Note:In 1901 Henry E. Bonitz planned a redecoration of the clerk's and treasurer's office, and in 1904 he made major improvements to the theater in Thalian Hall to keep up with changing theater styles, comply with fire and safety regulations, and make repairs. Updated over the years, the imposing building continues as a civic landmark and still serves its original purposes. It has been the scene of many political events and notable theatrical performances.
- Dates:1872Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:305 W. 3rd St., Wilmington, NCStatus:AlteredType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).Note:In 1872 Walker's estimates for building the Murchison House were written on Purcell House Hotel letterhead, indicating that he was residing there. His estimate survives in a private collection, McAllister and Solomon Used and Rare Books, LLC.
- Dates:1859-1861Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:121 S. 3rd St., Wilmington, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Susan Taylor Block, Cape Fear Lost (1999).
Emma Woodward MacMillan, A Goodly Heritage (1961).
Beverly Tetterton, Wilmington: Lost But Not Forgotten (2005).Note:Sloan's First Presbyterian Church was built on a newly acquired site to replace a previous church (1821) that burned in 1859. The 1859-1861 building, in elaborate Gothic Revival style, burned in 1925 and was in turn replaced by the present First Presbyterian Church (1926-1928) designed by Hobart Upjohn.
- Dates:1900-1901Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:10th St. at Rankin St., Wilmington, NCStatus:No longer standingType:Health CareImages Puslished In:Susan Taylor Block, Cape Fear Lost (1999).
Beverly Tetterton, Wilmington: Lost But Not Forgotten (2005).Note:The Wilmington Morning Star of February 28, 1900, and the Wilmington Weekly Star of March 2, 1900, identified Charles McMillen as the architect for the hospital. Builder Walker donated the building; he died before it was quite completed.
- Dates:1896Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:Oakdale Cemetery, Wilmington, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Oakdale Cemetery: History, http://www.oakdalecemetery.org/history.asp.
- Dates:1896-1897Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:Oakdale Cemetery, Wilmington, NCStatus:No longer standingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Susan Taylor Block, Cape Fear Lost (1999).Note:According to the Wilmington Dispatch (Jan. 12, 1897), James Walker helped build the lodge at Oakdale Cemetery and served as "consulting architect without any compensation." Probably Walker also worked on the granite gate posts that James F. Post designed and the board had built at the same time.
- Dates:1888Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:109-117 N. Front St., Wilmington, NCStatus:No longer standingType:CommercialImages Puslished In:Susan Taylor Block, Cape Fear Lost (1999).
Beverly Tetterton, Wilmington: Lost But Not Forgotten (2005).Note:Joseph Hinton purchased the old Orton Hotel and was "having plans prepared by Charles McMillen for improvements" to cost about $20,000 (Manufacturers' Record, Jan. 18, 1906). Whether these were executed is not known.
- Dates:1875-1876Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:1 S. 4th St., Wilmington, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).Note:The architect of Temple Israel has been described as Alex Strausz, based on the report in the May 20, 1875 Wilmington Morning Star that the contract for the symmetrical structure "of the Moorish order of architecture" was given to the Cape Fear Building Company, and was the "original design" of Alex Strausz, a partner in the company. However, other evidence suggests that it was planned by Samuel Sloan: on the 50th anniversary of the Temple, President Marcus Jacobi (whose father was founding president) said the design was obtained from Samuel Sloan of Philadelphia. James Sprunt states in his Chronicles of the Cape Fear that the building was "according to plans drawn in Philadelphia and altered and amended by our townsman, James Walker". Beverly Tetterton, Helen F. Solomon and JoAnn Fogler, History of the Temple of Israel, Wilmington, North Carolina, 1876 - 2001 (2001).
- Contributors:Dates:1871-1872; 1910 [expanded]; 1937 [expanded]Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:400 Ann St., Wilmington, NCStatus:AlteredType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).Note:The development of the school is somewhat complex and the roles of those involved in its 1871-1872 construction uncertain. Newspaper articles mention both Walker and Keen as builders. The original 2-story section of brick was completed in 1872 and was later expanded. One expansion was the "enlarge high school" project noted for Leitner in the Manufacturers' Record of June 30, 1910. Boney planned the third addition, the Ann Street wings. It was estimated to cost $26,000. The illustration here depicts the Tileston School in essentially its original picturesque form. The porch and most of the decorations have been removed, though the original school still stands at the core of the present complex. A more recent photograph appears in Wrenn, Wilmington.
- Dates:1857-1859Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:8th St., between Nun St. and Church St., Wilmington, NCStatus:No longer standingType:Health CareImages Puslished In:Susan Taylor Block, Cape Fear Lost (1999).
Beverly Tetterton, Wilmington: Lost But Not Forgotten (2005).
- Dates:1869Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:302 S. 2nd St., Wilmington, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).Note:This 2-story frame house was built by James Walker as an investment property.
- Variant Name(s):Broughton HospitalDates:1875-1883; 1886 [addition]; 1890s [addition]Location:Morganton, Burke CountyStreet Address:Broughton Rd., Morganton, NCStatus:StandingType:Health CareImages Puslished 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).
William B. Bushong, "A. G. Bauer, North Carolina's New South Architect," North Carolina Historical Review, 60.3 (July 1983).
Harold N. Cooledge, Jr., Samuel Sloan, Architect of Philadelphia, 1814-1884 (1986).Note:Completion of the Western North Carolina Hospital for the Insane, as designed by Samuel Sloan and with James Walker serving as contractor, was delayed due to financial problems and stopped in 1883, with only the central section and one wing completed. After Sloan's death in 1884, A. G. Bauer designed the building's north wing, which was built in 1886. An annex was added a few years later.
- Variant Name(s):Brunswick Hotel; O'Berry HotelDates:1891Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:301-305 N. Front St., Wilmington, NCStatus:No longer standingType:RecreationalImages Puslished In:
Beverly Tetterton, Wilmington: Lost But Not Forgotten (2005).Note:The 1891 Y. M. C. A. was later used as the O'Berry Hotel and the Brunswick Hotel. Its purpose was supplanted when a "new" Y was completed in 1913. Both buildings have been destroyed.