Briggs, John D. (1856-1934)
John D. Briggs (April 5, 1856-June 23, 1934), member of a Raleigh family long active in construction, was a contractor, architect, and engineer responsible for many industrial buildings including several American Tobacco Company and Liggett and Myers warehouses in Durham. He was one of six sons of Thomas H. Briggs, Sr., the respected and long-lived Raleigh builder and manufacturer. John D. was also the grandson of carpenter John J. Briggs, one of Raleigh’s earliest builders.
According to the Raleigh News and Observer obituary of June 24, 1934, “by profession, Mr. Briggs was a civil engineer, architect and contractor. A number of structures here are the result of his workmanship. However, for more than 25 years, until his health failed, he was employed as an engineer by the American Tobacco Company and supervised the building of many warehouses and other structures for that company.” Census records identified Briggs as a builder in 1880, a contractor in 1900, and a civil engineer and architect in 1910 and 1920. He also built or planned other industrial buildings, such as the Glen Royall Cotton Mill (1900) in Wake Forest, a factory designed by the famous Rhode Island mill architect C. R. Makepeace. In Raleigh Briggs erected in 1911 some warehouses of brick with steel beams and columns for J. P. Wyatt.
Although the details of his work for the Duke family’s American Tobacco Company (ATC) have not yet been documented, Briggs was involved in building some of the city’s massive brick tobacco factories and warehouses. These buildings, landmarks of Durham, are well known for their highly functional design, sturdy construction, and elaborate and distinctive brickwork. The only specific citation known thus far is a notice in the Manufacturers’ Record in 1911 that Liggett and Myers (successor to ATC after a corporate breakup) had let a contract to builder J. T. Salmon for a 300 by 119 foot brick building of “mill construction for $30,000, based on plans by John D. Briggs of Raleigh.”
As Elizabeth Mansell has shown, many men were involved in planning and building the Durham warehouses. Among these were Albert F. Hunt of Richmond, “the company’s chief architect” around 1900; William J. Hicks, architect and superintendent of the state penitentiary who supplied convict-made bricks and evidently took a hand in planning the Walker Warehouse (1897) and possibly others; and Raleigh architects Barrett and Thomson, who illustrated a warehouse and other related tobacco buildings in Durham in their promotional brochure.
Briggs was one of the first licensed architects in North Carolina. His license certificate, issued in 1915, was #6 in the official registration book of the North Carolina Board of Architecture, one of the early group of men who were licensed in the state based on their having been in professional practice prior to the licensing act of 1915.
John D. Briggs was a member of the North Carolina Society of Engineers and the American Association of Engineers. He was described as diligent, painstaking, modest, and retiring. Like others in his family, he was a Baptist, and he was a member of Raleigh’s First Baptist Church on Salisbury Street. On April 12, 1876, he wed Florence H. Dunn of Wake Forest; their children were Hubert, William D., Thomas H., and Helen (Mrs. Marvin Scruggs). He was buried, as were many of his extended family, in Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery.
- Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
- Charlotte Vestal Brown Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Elizabeth Lloyd Meiheck Mansell, “The American Tobacco Company Brick Storage Warehouses in Durham, North Carolina: 1897-1906,” M.A. thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1980).
- Manufacturers’ Record, various issues.
- North Carolina Board of Architecture, Record Book 1915-1992, microfilmed by North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Claudia P. Roberts (Brown) and Diane E. Lea, The Durham Architectural and Historic Inventory (1982).
- Contributors:John D. Briggs, architect; J. T. Salmon, builderVariant Name(s):OBrienBrienDates:1911Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:Durham, NCStatus:UnknownType:CommercialNote:The Manufacturers' Record reported in 1911 that Liggett and Myers (successor to ATC after a corporate breakup) had let a contract to builder J. T. Salmon for a 300 by 119 foot brick building of "mill construction for $30,000, based on plans by John D. Briggs of Raleigh." (It is not clear what building this citation referred to. The Manufacturers' Record said the building was to be called O'Brien, but the O'Brien Building of 1898 is a different building. The reference might be to a structure shown on the 1913 Sanborn Insurance Map as "(O'Brien) Cobb Annex."