Holt, Thomas J. (ca. 1814-1890)
Prince Edward County, Virginia, USA
- Raleigh, North Carolina
- Warrenton, North Carolina
Styles & Forms:
Italianate; Second Empire
Thomas J. Holt (ca. 1814-1890), brother of contractor Jacob W. Holt, began his career as a carpenter but assumed the role and title of architect and worked in the North Carolina Piedmont for many years. He was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, the second son of carpenter David Holt and Elizabeth McGehee Holt. After Thomas and his elder brother, Jacob W. Holt, lost their mother in 1821, they were entrusted to the care of a maternal uncle and probably apprenticed to a local carpenter. By 1849 Thomas joined his brother, Jacob, in Warrenton, North Carolina as did other Prince Edward County building artisans. Jacob Holt’s carpentry and building shop was among the largest in the state. In 1850 Thomas J. Holt’s household was next to his brother’s, and included his wife Rebecca, three children (Indiana, Henry, and Jacob), and carpenters Samuel Rogers (43) and William Phillips (23). The Holt brothers worked together for a time. In some cases, Jacob took on building contracts which Thomas then superintended, including a job for General M. T. Hawkins in 1850. At the large St. John’s College (1855-1857) in Oxford, Jacob Holt contracted for the carpentry and John Berry of Hillsborough contracted for the masonry work; Thomas received payments regularly for the Holt portion of the work and probably superintended. An open question is what role Thomas took in developing the Holt firm’s designs from pattern books, and how much of the Holt style was Thomas’s versus that of his more famous brother Jacob.
In the late 1850s Thomas J. Holt moved to Raleigh, where he became “architect” for the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad; the company’s president was William J. Hawkins of Warren County. By 1860 in Raleigh Thomas identified himself as an architect, and he had remarried (Ellenora or Nora) and had more children (Estelle and Gaston). Thomas planned buildings for the railroad company and advertised for contractors to construct them at locations all along the line at Henderson, Franklinton, and Kittrell and possibly at Warren Plains and others. His largest project was the massive Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Repair Shops (1850s) in Raleigh, an extensive complex of brick buildings; the Raleigh newspaper praised the building and the “taste and skill” of Holt, the “Architect and Superintendent of the work.” Although that building was razed in the mid-20th century, for many years the cornerstone marked with Holt’s name remained. It is not known whether he also designed the Raleigh and Gaston’s brick office building nearby, later known as the Seaboard Office Building.
Also in Raleigh, Thomas Holt became the architect for the Peace College Main Building on the eve of the Civil War; he simplified the design from that supplied by architect William Percival. His brother Jacob took the contract to build it. But the war delayed its completion; it was roughly finished for service as a hospital and only later fully completed for college use. In 1860 Thomas J. Holt won first prize for architectural drawing at the State Fair, a prize won the previous year by William Percival. None of his drawings are known to survive.
After the Civil War, Thomas and his family moved frequently. In 1869 a T. J. Holt advertised a carpentry business in Charlotte with “Architecture and building . . . in the latest style.” The 1870 census shows that he, like his brother, moved to Mecklenburg County, Virginia, where building was active, and there he was listed as an architect with Nora and the children; in 1880 he was in Oxford, North Carolina, working as a house carpenter. During the 1880s he lived in Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood, where he probably had a role in building some of the houses, though none has been documented. The same decade brought a major project many miles to the west in Monroe, where county records document that he served as superintending architect of the Union County Courthouse (1887-1888) in Monroe, a substantial brick edifice in Second Empire style. According to an article in the Fayetteville Weekly Observer of April 20, 1893, it was designed by Bruce and Morgan, leading Atlanta architects.
- Catherine W. Bishir, “Jacob W. Holt, An American Builder,” Winterthur Portfolio (Spring, 1980), reprinted in Catherine W. Bishir, Southern Built: American Architecture, Regional Practice (2006).
- William B. Bushong, “William Percival, an English Architect in the Old North State, 1857-1860,” North Carolina Historical Review, 57.3 (July 1980).
- Charlotte Daily Observer, Oct. 10, 1869.
- Lizzie Wilson Montgomery, Sketches of Old Warrenton, North Carolina (1984).
- North Carolina Standard, Oct. 31, 1860.
- Raleigh City Directory, various issues.
- Raleigh Register, May 2, 1860; Aug. 22, 1860; Oct. 31, 1860.
- Raleigh Spirit of the Age, Nov. 16, 1859.
- Union County Records, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Dates:Ca. 1850Location:Warrenton, Warren CountyStreet Address:211 Ridgeway St., Warrenton, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Kenneth McFarland, The Architecture of Warren County, North Carolina, 1770s to 1860s (2001).Note:In the 1970s, Miriam Boyd, a descendant of the owner, stated that she had always heard that the Holts, Thomas and Jacob, built the house. It has features typical of Holt and also some typically associated with Albert Gamaliel Jones.
- Variant Name(s):Peace Institute Main BuildingDates:1850s and laterLocation:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:Peace St. opposite Wilmington St., Raleigh, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
Elizabeth C. Waugh, North Carolina's Capital, Raleigh (1967).
- Contributors:Thomas J. Holt, architectDates:1850sLocation:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:N. Wilmington St., Raleigh, NCStatus:No longer standingType:TransportationImages Puslished In:Elizabeth C. Waugh, North Carolina's Capital, Raleigh (1967).
- Variant Name(s):Oxford OrphanageDates:1855-1857Location:Oxford, Granville CountyStreet Address:Corner of College St. and Alexander Ave., Oxford, NCStatus:No longer standingType:FraternalImages Puslished In:Views: Pictorial History of the Oxford Orphanage (1922).Note:The immense St. John's College, a Masonic project, became the Oxford Orphanage after the Civil War, also a Masonic institution.
- Dates:1887-1888; 1926 [additions]Location:Monroe, Union CountyStreet Address:Courthouse Square, Monroe, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
Suzanne S. Pickens, ed., Sweet Union: An Architectural and Historical Survey of Union County, North Carolina (1990).Note:The Union County Courthouse has long been credited solely to architect Thomas J. Holt, but the strong similarity with a courthouse by Bruce and Morgan in Monroe, Georgia, seems to confirm the statement in the Fayetteville Weekly Observer of April 20, 1893, that architects Bruce and Morgan were noted for their courthouses in the South, including in North Carolina, such as "the one at Monroe and the elegant house at Murphy." Union County, N. C. records payments to T. J. Holt for services in "superintending erection of Court House and board from May 1887 to Jany 1888." Contractor J. T. Hart received regular payments for his work. Later on, in 1889, the commissioners authorized payment of $300 to W. H. Fitzgerald and C. N. Simpson for "services as Building Committee in the erection of the Court House, and an additional $10 to W. H. Fitzgerald for "expenses incurred in procuring plans and specifications of the Courthouse"—possibly from Bruce and Morgan—which were probably turned over to Holt to superintend the execution in coordination with contractor Hart. C. C. Hook and his son Walter were the architects for the 1926 additions.
- Dates:Ca. 1863Location:Warren Plains, Warren CountyStreet Address:Warren Plains, NCStatus:StandingType:TransportationImages Puslished In:Kenneth McFarland, The Architecture of Warren County, North Carolina, 1770s to 1860s (2001).Note:One of the few mid-19th century buildings surviving of the Raleigh and Gaston line, the board and batten frame depot is probably that for which lumber was "on the ground" in 1863 and construction was expected soon. It was identified as the Warrenton depot; although it was a few miles outside of town it was the closest stop to Warrenton. Since Thomas J. Holt was architect for the Raleigh and Gaston, he probably designed the building, and it seems likely that his brother Jacob would have built it. The structure, which features large, arched openings, was probably a freight depot.