Barber, George F. (1854-1915)
DeKalb, Illinois, USA
- Knoxville, Tennessee
Styles & Forms:
Colonial Revival; Queen Anne
George F. (Franklin) Barber (1854-1915), a Midwestern carpenter, architect, and publisher, practiced architecture in Knoxville, Tennessee, from 1888 to his death in 1915 and became one of the most successful architects in the United States, largely through a mail order blueprint business driven by published architectural catalogues and a monthly magazine. Barber’s architecture has received little attention other than in a 1982 essay by Michael Tomlan written for the Dover republication of Barber’s Victorian Cottage Architecture catalogue.
Born in DeKalb, Illinois in 1854, George F. Barber grew up on a Kansas farm in a household headed by his sister Olive Barber Barrett and her husband William Barrett. Also in the household was Olive and William’s son, Charles W. Barrett (1869-1947), who later worked with his uncle George as a draftsman, became an architect himself, and worked briefly in North Carolina. George F. Barber was the son of Lyman and Cornelia Barrett; after his father’s early death, his mother moved with her children to the Fort Scott, Kansas, area, where she was living in 1860. Probably George went to live with his sister, where he earned his keep and perhaps some money as a farm worker to help his mother make ends meet for the younger children. After a sporadic education, he became a carpenter like his older brother, Manley DeWitt Barber, as well as operating a commercial nursery on his own farm. By 1880 George F. Barber was married and working as a house carpenter in Fort Scott.
Barber accomplished his real goal, to become an architect, by studying construction and design books. By 1884 he had returned to DeKalb, Illinois, and was designing houses for his brother’s construction company. His largest early design, the Congregational Church, still stands in DeKalb. Emulating George Palliser of Connecticut, who published one of the earliest American mail order architectural catalogues in 1876, Barber published an illustrated sampler of eighteen house designs entitled The Cottage Souvenir about 1887.
In 1888 he moved his wife and child to Knoxville, Tennessee, because its climate better suited his health. In 1890, with his publication of The Cottage Souvenir No. 2, A Repository of Artistic Cottage Architecture and Miscellaneous Designs, he achieved nationwide attention. The book contained fifty-nine designs estimated to cost $500 to $8,000 to build, along with photographs of completed houses. As with his earlier catalogue, he included price lists for the drawings and order forms to purchase sets of plans. Barber counseled his clients to negotiate slight changes to his drawings with their builders. If major alterations were needed, the firm would provide them at additional cost. The firm also offered custom design carried out through extensive correspondence. In 1892 he took local developer J. C. White as his business partner; about 1895 Thomas A. Kluttz of Georgia replaced White.
By 1900 Barber’s firm had achieved such success that it employed thirty draftsmen and twenty secretaries to generate plans and deal with the thousands of clients located in nearly every state in the union as well as around the world, including South Africa, Europe, Japan, and China. Barber’s nephew Charles W. Barrett was one of these employees, and after becoming an architect himself, he published his own promotional architectural booklets in North Carolina. Barber published a total of nine catalogues, as well as a monthly magazine, American Homes, A Journal Devoted to Planning, Building, and Beautifying the Home, begun in 1895. In order to attract readership, the magazine included among the architectural designs such literary features as articles about colonial American landmarks, the history of architecture, and serialized romances. Barber published the magazine until 1902, when it moved to New York City under different management. During nearly two decades the firm produced over 800 designs and sold perhaps 20,000 sets of plans. In 1908 the mail order business ceased because the firm was heavily involved in local construction around Knoxville.
Barber’s clients consisted of the rising middle class—bankers, professionals, and farmers—as well as wealthy industrialists, all attracted by his philosophy of furnishing house designs targeted for modern American tastes and American standards of comfort. His phenomenal success may reflect the relative scarcity of local architects during this era. According to Michael Tomlan, the firm often crated and shipped to the job site many of the construction elements, including staircases, windows and doors in their frames, and other construction materials. Yet there is no evidence that the firm worked with a particular millwork company to produce these. Likely most of the houses were built on site by local builders. Barber’s involvement in supplying building materials needs more investigation.
Barber’s eclectic range of designs throughout his career closely mirrored popular taste, from the Queen Anne style of the 1880s and 1890s to its combination with Colonial Revival elements in the late 1890s to full-fledged Colonial Revival styles in the early 1900s. Barber was a talented but not an exceptionally creative designer who produced, in Tomlan’s words, respectable architecture to “convey, solidify and then materialize the American ideals of comfort and artistic taste.” Barber’s earliest designs, in the Queen Anne mode then in vogue, displayed a full range of the picturesque elements of the style—weatherboards, novelty siding, fish-scale shingles, brackets, and gable ornaments. By 1890 he introduced the “Romanesque” mode, based on the Richardsonian Romanesque style of commercial and institutional buildings translated from brick into wood, with such elements as an engaged tower or turret, an oriel window, and an open circular pavilion at the corner of the veranda enriching his basic Queen Anne forms. His most original “Romanesque” element was a Syrian arch of lattice-like bead screening placed in front of an entrance. By the early 1890s he created his most distinctive designs, eclectic mansions with inset porches, projecting bays, and ornate chimneys that guaranteed the client one of the most noteworthy residences in the community.
Beginning in 1893 Barber included “Colonial” designs, heavily dependent on earlier picturesque forms, in his catalogues. Barber’s 1898 catalogue, Modern Dwellings, and his 1903 Modern American Homes reflected the shifting of American taste toward colonial American styles. In 1902 the “Colonial Cottage” appeared—a one and one-half story house with a gambrel or deck-on-hip roof, dormer windows, Adamesque ornament, and sometimes a Palladian window. Barber’s “Colonial House,” by contrast, stood a full two stories. His most pretentious classical designs were “Georgian” or “Classic Colonial,” with porticos, often of a colossal order, and sometimes with a one-story porch woven into the portico. His later catalogues included “mission style,” “English half-timbered”, “bungalow,” and “Craftsman” designs, but it appears that relatively few of these were built.
More than two dozen houses are documented in North Carolina as Barber designs; the actual number is likely much larger. A few still stand, but most have been demolished. The list of North Carolinians whose houses came from Barber’s designs reads like a “Who’s Who” of the foremost industrialists: William Neal and R. J. Reynolds and Benjamin N. Duke, and textile leaders Charles T. Holt, Lawrence S. Holt, Joseph L. Holt, and J. Q. Gant. Barber illustrated some of these houses in his publications, citing the importance of the clients. It is indicative of the state of the architectural profession and the tastes of the period in North Carolina that even the state’s very richest industrialists, such as the Reynolds and the Dukes, lived in Barber-designed Queen Anne style residences of the Gilded Age. Some of their later mansions were designed by northern architects of note, but few by in-state practitioners.
These leading industrialists’ mansions are all demolished except for two palatial frame Queen Anne-style villas: the Charles T. Holt House, built in 1897 for a member of the Alamance County textile industrial family in Haw River; and the Alexander Martin Smith House, built in 1897 for a shoe manufacturer in Elkin. These are among the grandest surviving examples of the exuberant Queen Anne style in North Carolina.
A few other extant Barber houses are known. The smaller but impressive William Howard House was built about 1906 in Tarboro from a design called “A Suburban Beauty,” published in Modern Dwellings, printed from 1901 to 1907. The 2-story frame house blends Queen Anne massing with Colonial Revival detailing and features front and side bay windows, an ornate veranda, and a central hall with elaborate staircase. Other known Barber houses in Queen Anne style include the Pearsall House, a Queen Anne cottage of ca. 1900 in Dunn; and the James L. Fleming House, a splendid residence built in 1902 for the founder of present East Carolina University in Greenville, and several houses in Edenton and Elizabeth City. Exemplifying Barber’s “Colonial” style is the Dred and Ellen Yelverton House, completed about 1913 on a farm in Wayne County as a Colonial Revival-style house plan, with wraparound veranda, upper balcony, tall hipped roof with dormers and widow’s walk. The plans, labeled “Barber and Kluttz,” survive. Thomas Briggs, Jr., also obtained plans from Barber for his Raleigh residence, and family records include documentation for the Thomas H. Briggs House in Raleigh. Plans or correspondence or both survive for several Barber houses, as noted in the building list, in the hands of descendants and in various archival collections.
Editor’s note on demolished George F. Barber houses in North Carolina:
There are several Barber houses in the state for which little information is available, despite data supplied by Michael Tomlan and others; much of this is compiled in the Charlotte Vestal Brown Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh. The following lost houses (and other buildings not yet identified at all) may be added to the building list pending discovery of an image or specific location. Alamance County: J. Q. Gant House, Elon College, ca. 1892; Joseph L. Holt House, Burlington, ca. 1896: Durham County: Dr. J. C. Brown House, Durham (date unknown); Forsyth County: W. A. Blair House, Winston-Salem, 1901; Perquimans County: Matthew H. White House, Hertford, 1893; Rowan County: Thomas Murphy House, Salisbury, ca. 1898; Wake County: C. B. Edwards House, Raleigh (date unknown); J. Ottinger House, Wilson (date unknown). Doubtless there is documentation in private hands of other Barber houses, which will be gratefully received.
- George F. Barber and Co., Barber’s Turn-of-the-Century Houses (1901, reprinted 2008).
- George F. Barber and Co., Victorian Cottage Architecture (1891, reprinted 1982).
- 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).
- 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).
- Charlotte Vestal Brown Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Michael Cotter, ed., The Architectural Heritage of Greenville, North Carolina (1988).
- Dates:1897Location:Elkin, Surry CountyStreet Address:131 Gwyn Ave., Elkin, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages 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).Note:The Alexander Martin Smith House, one of the best preserved of Barber's designs, is also one of the grandest and most ornate surviving Queen Anne style residence in the state.
- Dates:Ca. 1887Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:Chapel Hill St., Durham, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Joel A. Kostyu and Frank A. Kostyu, Durham: A Pictorial History (1978).
Claudia P. Roberts (Brown) and Diane E. Lea, The Durham Architectural and Historic Inventory (1982).Note:The Benjamin Duke House of ca. 1887 was moved about 1910 to make way for Duke's larger house "Four Acres," which was later razed (see C. C. Hook). The elevated site is now occupied by the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Building. Although Pugin is documented in the Duke papers as having designed the house, it is possible that he was working from a plan from Barber.
- Variant Name(s):Lawrence S. Holt, Sr., HouseDates:Ca. 1896Location:Burlington, Alamance CountyStreet Address:Lexington Ave., Burlington, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Allison Harris Black, An Architectural History of Burlington, North Carolina (1987).Note:Blythewood, built for one of the pioneering textile family of Holts, was among Barber and Kluttz's most dramatically composed and richly ornamented houses in the Piedmont. It was one of several grand mansions built for textile families in Alamance County, most of which have been lost.
- Variant Name(s):John Q. Gant HouseDates:1890sLocation:Burlington, Alamance CountyStreet Address:E. Front St., Burlington, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Allison Harris Black, An Architectural History of Burlington, North Carolina (1987).
- Dates:Ca. 1902Location:Wilson CountyStreet Address:SR 1136, Wilson vicinity, NCStatus:UnknownType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
- Dates:1897Location:Haw River, Alamance CountyStreet Address:228 Holt St., Haw River, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
- Dates:1898Location:Salisbury, Rowan CountyStreet Address:402 S. Ellis St., Salisbury, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Davyd Foard Hood, The Architecture of Rowan County North Carolina: A Catalogue and History of Surviving 18th, 19th, and Early 20th Century Structures (1983).
- Dates:1895Location:Edenton, Chowan CountyStreet Address:304 S. Granville St., Edenton, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
Thomas R. Butchko, Edenton, an Architectural Portrait: The Historic Architecture of Edenton, North Carolina (1992).Note:The imposing Queen Anne style house was built for Milton and Sallie Dillard Dixon. It is attributed to Ralph because "Mrs. Dixon's" house is cited as a model in the specifications in the agreement between Ralph and Mrs. Emma Leary for Queen Anne style residence which Ralph built for Emma and William Leary in 1897 from designs from George F. Barber. With its tall roof, diverse forms, and capacious porches, the Dixon-Powell House is among the state's prime examples of the Queen Anne style.
- Dates:Ca. 1905Location:Elizabeth City, Pasquotank CountyStreet Address:203 W. Main St., Elizabeth City, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Thomas R. Butchko, On the Shores of the Pasquotank: The Architectural Heritage of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, North Carolina (1989).Note:The large frame house was built by Martin from a design by Barber. Displaying the popular "Southern Colonial" style, it is symmetrical in overall form and features a two-tier, pedimented entrance portico and flanking 1-story porches.
- Dates:1903Location:Mocksville, Davie CountyStreet Address:665 N. Main St., Mocksville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Kirk Franklin Mohney, The Historic Architecture of Davie County, North Carolina: An Inventory Analysis and Documentary Catalogue (1986).Note:The strikingly composed house, a bold element in its streetscape, features a capacious round tower and asymmetrical façade, complemented by distinctive rough stonework.
- Dates:Ca. 1900; ca. 1913Location:Fremont, Wayne CountyStreet Address:1979 NC Highway 222 East, Fremont vicinity, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:J. Daniel Pezzoni and Penne Smith, Glimpses of Wayne County, North Carolina: An Architectural History (1998).Note:According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Yelverton House (Ruth Little, 2009), family tradition reports that in about 1900 Etheldred ("Dred") Yelverton hired a local contractor, Claude Dickerson, to build a new house for himself and his family, to replace one that had burned. It was to follow blueprints from Barber and Kluttz. Problems with the contractor resulted in a long delay in completing the house, which was accomplished by a different contractor in 1913, following Dred Yelverton's marriage to Cherry Ellen Davis in 1912. (The undated blueprints, marked "Res for T. E. Yelverton, Fremont, NC" and the firm name "Barber & Kluttz" survive in private hands. T. E. Yelverton was a prominent citizen of Goldsboro; why his name is on these plans is not established. Possibly he gave the plans to Etheldred. ) Combining elements of the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles, the house is unusually imposing for a rural residence in eastern North Carolina. It has continued in family ownership.
- Dates:Ca. 1894Location:Elizabeth City, Pasquotank CountyStreet Address:Corner of Main St. and Pool St., Elizabeth City, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Thomas R. Butchko, On the Shores of the Pasquotank: The Architectural Heritage of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, North Carolina (1989).
- Dates:1902Location:Greenville, Pitt CountyStreet Address:302 S. Greene St., Greenville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
Michael Cotter, ed., The Architectural Heritage of Greenville, North Carolina (1988).Note:The splendid Queen Anne style house was built for the founder of East Carolina University.
- Dates:1897Location:Elizabeth City, Pasquotank CountyStreet Address:504 W. Main St., Elizabeth City, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Thomas R. Butchko, On the Shores of the Pasquotank: The Architectural Heritage of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, North Carolina (1989).
- Dates:Ca. 1892Location:Edenton, Chowan CountyStreet Address:108 N. Broad St., Edenton, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Thomas R. Butchko, Edenton, an Architectural Portrait: The Historic Architecture of Edenton, North Carolina (1992).
- Dates:1890sLocation:Franklinton, Franklin CountyStreet Address:West side US 1 South of Tar River, Franklinton vicinity, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).Note:Although there is no documentation of the source of the design for the large Queen Anne style house, built as a front addition to an early 19th century house, its massing and details have suggested that it might have been a Barber design.
- Dates:1900Location:Winston-Salem, Forsyth CountyStreet Address:666 W. 5th St., Winston-Salem, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Molly Grogan Rawls, Winston-Salem in Vintage Postcards (2004).
Molly Grogan Rawls, Winston-Salem: Then and Now (2008).Note:The Reynolds House was built in 1900 for William Neal Reynolds and was also the home of his brother Richard J. Reynolds; in 1904, Richard purchased the residence from William and in 1905 married Katharine Smith, and the couple lived there until they moved to their suburban estate, Reynolda House (see Charles Barton Keen).
- Dates:1890Location:Edenton, Chowan CountyStreet Address:NE corner Broad St. and Gale St., Edenton, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ResidentialNote:The immense Queen Anne style residence, one of the grandest houses in Edenton in its day, was described in the Edenton Fisherman and Farmer of September 5, 1890.
- Dates:1896Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:W. Edenton St., Raleigh, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Norman D. Anderson and B. T. Fowler, Raleigh: North Carolina's Capital City on Postcards (1996, 2000, 2002).Note:Extensive documentation of the construction of the house survives in the Briggs papers at the North Carolina State Archives.
- Dates:1897Location:Edenton, Chowan CountyStreet Address:203 E. Water St., Edenton, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Thomas R. Butchko, Edenton, an Architectural Portrait: The Historic Architecture of Edenton, North Carolina (1992).Note:According to Thomas R. Butchko, the Leary family considered two plans by Barber to expand an existing house. They selected Design No. 1 in Barber's Cottage Souvenir, Number 2 (1891). A drawing by Barber for "Change of Residence for Mrs. William Leary" is reproduced in Butchko, Edenton: An Architectural Portrait, as is the agreement of 1897 between local builder Theo Ralph and Mrs. Emma W. (William J.) Leary, which described every component and stated that the work was to be done according to "plans and specifications sent out by Geo. F. Barber & Co. of Knoxville, Tennessee." It made reference to reuse of some materials from the previous house, and also to certain features of the new house "exactly like" Mrs. Dixon's, indicating that the Dixon-Powell House may have been by Barber and/or Ralph as well.