Porter and Godwin (fl. 1880s-1900s)
E. G. Porter (1857-1908); Edwin Griffith Porter; W. H. Godwin (1846-1924)
- Goldsboro, North Carolina
Styles & Forms:
Colonial Revival; Gothic Revival; Italianate; Neoclassical
The construction firm of Porter and Godwin, headquartered in Goldsboro, N. C., operated in various communities in North Carolina from the 1880s until 1908. Although they are not well known at present, they had a good reputation in their day and gained commissions to build many substantial buildings, sometimes winning projects in competition with better-known urban firms.
Although much of their work was in Goldsboro, their location at the crossing of north-south and east-west railroads in North Carolina—originally the Wilmington and Weldon and the North Carolina Rail Road—enabled them to gain and execute commissions beyond their small town headquarters—in Wilmington to the south, Raleigh and Greensboro to the west, and Kinston and Beaufort to the east. Like some other architects and builders of their day, they had a good relationship with local newspapers, especially the Goldboro Argus, which frequently featured their projects and expressed pride in their success. Executing designs primarily by regional architects such as Herbert W. Simpson, William P. Rose, Charles McMillen, Henry P. S. Keller, and Henry E. Bonitz as well as some from more distant urban firms, Porter and Godwin exemplifies the regional construction companies essential to the blossoming railroad towns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The building list includes a selection of their best-known projects.
Porter and Godwin apparently worked together from about 1887 until Porter’s illness and death in 1908. An early reference to their association appeared in the Goldsboro Weekly Transcript and Messenger of May 6, 1887: “Among our leading builders and contractors is the firm of Porter & Godwin, which is composed of Mr. E. G. Porter and Mr. W. H. Godwin, both of whom are practical workmen of experience and take a pride in doing their work in a first-class manner. They propose to do good work only and to do it as reasonably as good work can be afforded. Messrs. Porter & Godwin are now building a residence for Mr. F. A. Daniels which reflects much credit upon their skill. Consult them when you wish any building done.”
This appears to be the first reference to the partnership. Porter was engaged in construction in Goldsboro by 1886, when a local newspaper praised the “new and elegant building” of the Bank of New Hanover on the corner of Walnut and James streets, describing its features in detail and noting that the brick and stone work was executed by Milton Harding and the “wainscoting, ceiling, &c., by Mr. E. G. Porter” (Goldsboro Messenger, May 6, 1886). The newspaper had previously praised the “beautiful” ceiling in the “new Bank building,” which “reflects great credit upon the builder, Mr. E. G. Porter, furnishing conclusive evidence that he thoroughly understands his business” (Goldsboro Messenger, March 4, 1886). Builder and architect Milton Harding was E. G. Porter’s brother-in-law, and Porter had come with him to Goldsboro as a young man. Later in 1886, Porter was noted as the “contractor and builder” who had begun construction of a “fine residence on George street, between the dwellings of Messrs. E. B. Borden and M. L. Lee, for Mr. Frank A. Daniels” (Goldsboro Messenger, November 25, 1886), the house that in May 1887 was noticed as the work of Porter and Godwin.
A reputation-making project for the partners came in the construction of Wilmington’s Fifth Street Methodist Church (now Fifth Avenue Methodist Church). The Wilmington Daily Review of July 16, 1889 reported that Porter and Godwin of Goldsboro had been awarded the contract. They worked expeditiously, for the Wilmington Messenger reported on September 18, 1890, that the chimes for the church had arrived and would be installed in time to be played the following day. The contractors, Porter and Godwin—”deserving young men”—had done an excellent job: the building committee of the church was “highly pleased,” and other contractors and builders who had examined the building for the committee had pronounced it “an exceedingly fine piece of work, while some of them go so far as to say the brick work is the finest they have ever seen.”
The newspaper account also provided a rare explanation of how one commission led to another: “on account of their fine work Messrs. Porter & Godwin have secured the contract for building the fine Presbyterian church at Greensboro, and the $40,000 building for the Davis School at Winston [present Winston-Salem].” Committees from Greensboro and Winston had come to Wilmington to examine Porter and Godwin’s work on the church, and “it was upon their verdict that this enterprising firm was awarded the contracts in the two cities named.”
As was common practice, builders such as Porter and Godwin submitted bids in competition with other builders for the contracts for major buildings. For First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, they won the contract in competition with several other builders. In 1899 they were among nine firms submitting bids for the Masonic Building in Wilmington—E. G. Porter was in town “looking after the contract”. That contract went to the firm of David Getaz of Knoxville, whose principal was also in Wilmington along with other contractors (Wilmington Messenger, March 2, 1899).
Goldsboro and Wilmington newspapers regularly mentioned the firm’s projects in Goldsboro. Besides the F. A. (Frank) Daniels House of 1887, these included a 2-story frame residence for Frank Borden at the corner of Walnut and James streets, which the drawing indicated would be “an ornament to our thriving city” (Goldsboro Headlight, March 29, 1888); a “cottage” at the orphanage sponsored by the Odd Fellows (Wilmington Semi-Weekly Messenger of May 17, 1894); a “handsome two story cottage for T. R. Robinson on William Street (Goldsboro Daily Argus, December 1, 1894); the Acme Machine Works on East Centre Street (Goldsboro Weekly Argus, October 11, 1900); the brick and stonework for the new Wayne County Jail (Wilmington Messenger, May 6, 1902); a brick warehouse for Best and Thomas behind their store on Walnut Street (Goldsboro Weekly Argus, July 10, 1902); a residence for J. W. Winslow on the lot adjoining his home on John Street (Goldsboro Daily Argus, April 20, 1904); a 2-story residence on George Street for Mr. and Mrs. A. H. Edgerton (Goldsboro Daily Argus, June 1, 1904) ); and a new iron front at the Law Building (Goldsboro Daily Argus, March 23, 1905).
Especially noteworthy, the firm contracted in 1902 to erect Goldsboro’s new city hall and market (Wilmington Messenger, July 4, 1902). The Goldsboro Daily Argus of September 9, 1902, reported that W. P. Rose of Raleigh, “the architect who furnished the plans and specifications for the new City Hall, had arrived to inspect the work on the building and adjudged that Porter and Godwin were doing the work in a “very satisfactory manner.” Another major downtown work in Goldsboro was the Oddfellows Building of 1906, an eclectic brick building designed by architect Henry E. Bonitz.
Porter and Godwin had several projects in Wilmington. One of the most splendid was the John W. Harper House, built to replace Harper’s existing dwelling on South Front Street, from designs by architect Harry P. S. Keller who had recently opened an office at 121 North Front Street. Harper’s “colonial” style house would stand two stories tall with broad verandas (Wilmington Morning Star, March 8, 1903). For the “Heyer Building”—later known as the Southern Building—at the prominent corner of Front and Chestnut streets, designed by architect Charles McMillen, Porter and Godwin got the project from among six bidding firms from Atlanta to Jacksonville (Wilmington Messenger, March 12, 1904).
The firm also took on projects west of Goldsboro in towns accessible by the North Carolina Railroad. The Goldsboro Daily Argus of February 27, 1903, reported that Porter and Godwin, “the contractors of this city,” had contracted with Capt. J. W. Harper of Raleigh to build a “handsome residence in the Capital city during the coming spring” (whether Harper built this house as well as the one in Wilmington is not known). The westernmost known project was the First Presbyterian church in Greensboro.
Projects east of Goldsboro took the firm to the towns of Kinston and Beaufort. In 1902, when the firm was awarded the contract for a new Kinston Graded School, the Goldsboro Daily Argus of March 25 noted that the project “could not have been placed in more competent hands,” and the Argus congratulates the Kinston school trustees on their selection of contractors.” The “modern” and “commodious” school was designed by “Newbern’s well-known architect Mr. H. W. Simpson” (Herbert Woodley Simpson). The firm also ran advertisements in regional newspapers, such as the Kinston Daily Free Press of August 2, 1902. When architect Simpson designed the neoclassical Carteret County Courthouse in Beaufort, Porter and Godwin gained that contract as well—a large project that was one of their last. The long and productive partnership was ended by Porter’s death at age 50 in 1908 (see below).
W. H. (William Henry) Godwin (October 2, 1846-September 26, 1924) was a son of Jordon (“J. J.”) and Penelope Godwin of Johnston County, North Carolina. He apparently does not appear in the censuses of 1870 or 1880. In 1900 he was listed as a contractor and head of household; he and his wife Olivia Elizabeth Raford (Bettie), whom he had married in 1896, resided on John Street in Goldsboro with their sons William, Jr., 2, and Edward, an infant. After his business partner died in 1908, Godwin was still listed as a builder in the census of 1910. By 1920, however, he had become a farmer, though he resided in town on Center Street, and his two sons were salesmen. At the time of his death at age 77, according to his death certificate, his residence was 308 S. E. Center Street in Goldsboro. He left as his widow Bettie Godwin, and his two sons, W. H. Jr. (Henry) and E. G. Godwin. He was interred in Willow Dale Cemetery.
E. G. Porter (October 2, 1857-June 19, 1908), the younger of the partners, was a native of Virginia and a son of E. G. Porter and Carolina Carpenter. He was in Goldsboro by 1883. Porter appears to have been the most visible member of the firm, capturing frequent attention in the local newspapers, which carried news of his and his wife’s frequent trips and social and community activities, including his participation in the American Legion of Honor (Goldsboro Weekly Transcript and Messenger, May 6, 1887), the Elks, and the Knights of Pythias (Goldsboro Messenger, February 11, 1886). He could plan as well as manage construction of buildings: in 1894 the Argus reported on September 13 that Porter was currently “drawing plans and giving orders for materials for a handsome dwelling for himself,” to be built on George Street. He often made trips to seek contracts or manage the firm’s undertakings. On June 13, 1904, for example, the Goldsboro Daily Argus noted that he had returned from New Bern, where he was doing work on the New Bern Graded School. He and his wife had three children—Erwin, Edward Griffith (Griff or Gritt), and Clare. Edward Jr. studied at present North Carolina State University and returned to Goldsboro, where he lived with his father for a time and established himself as a civil engineer (Goldsboro Daily Argus, December 1, 1920). Edward Griffith Porter, Sr. was buried at Willow Dale Cemetery.
The relationship between Porter and Godwin was a close and harmonious one. Porter’s obituary in the New Berne Weekly Journal of June 23, 1908 stated that he had been a resident of Goldsboro for 30 years, having come there when he was “barely 21,” with his brother-in-law, Milton Harding, “now of Asheville” in the “architect and building business.” He was survived by his brother, Frank Porter, of Wilmington, “and by another—not a brother, but who loved him as such—his business partner, Mr. W. H. Godwin, whose devotion to him through all his illness—and through all the years of their business association—was beautiful.”
- Dates:1907Location:Beaufort, Carteret CountyStreet Address:Corner of Broad St. and Craven St., Beaufort, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).Note:The brick edifice features tall, Corinthian porticoes on two sides and a tall cupola. It is one of Simpson's principal civic buildings.
- Dates:1902Location:Goldsboro, Wayne CountyStreet Address:214 N. Center St., Goldsboro, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).Note:The Manufacturers' Record reported on April 3, 1902, that plans for the city hall and market in Goldsboro had been accepted from W. P. Rose, and on July 10, 1902, that a contract had been let for the city hall and market to Porter and Godwin, with Rose and Eaken of Raleigh "architects in charge." However, the distinctive design has been credited generally to architect Herbert W. Simpson of New Bern.
- Contributors:Porter and Godwin, contractors; Benjamin D. Price, architectVariant Name(s):Fifth Street Methodist ChurchDates:1889-1890Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:409 S. 5th Ave., Wilmington, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).Note:The design for the large auditorium plan church came from church specialist Benjamin D. Price of Philadelphia; whether it represented a custom design or a published design by the prolific architect is not clear. Price was a leading advocate of the auditorium plan and served many Methodist congregations.
- Dates:1892; 1938 (renovation as museum, joining of two buildings)Location:Greensboro, Guilford CountyStreet Address:220 N. Church St., Greensboro, NCStatus:AlteredType:ReligiousNote:The Brooklyn firm of L. B. Valk and Son designed the third sanctuary of Greensboro's First Presbyterian Church in the robust Romanesque Revival style popular at the time. When Charlotte architect C. C. Hook planned the adjoining Smith Memorial Building of 1903, he continued in a similar style. The congregation later erected its present building in the Fisher Park suburb (see Harry Barton and Hobart Upjohn), and this facility was converted to civic use.
- Dates:1902Location:Goldsboro, Wayne CountyStreet Address:214 N. Center St., Goldsboro, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).Note:The Goldsboro Daily Argus reported on March 26, 1902, that architects from "all over the State" had submitted drawings and explained the advantages of their designs for the Goldsboro City Hall, and the building committee chose W. P. Rose, "whose work was by far the most handsome from an artistic standpoint." The Manufacturers' Record reported on April 3, 1902, that plans for the city hall and market in Goldsboro had been accepted from W. P. Rose, and on July 10, 1902, that a contract had been let for the city hall and market to Porter and Godwin, with Rose and Eaken of Raleigh "architects in charge." The Goldsboro Daily Argus of September 9, 1902, reported that W. P. Rose of Raleigh, "the architect who furnished the plans and specifications for the new City Hall," had arrived to inspect the work on the building and adjudged that Porter and Godwin were doing the work in a "very satisfactory manner."
- Dates:1902Location:Kinston, Lenoir CountyStreet Address:E. Lenoir Ave., Kinston, NCStatus:No longer standingType:EducationalNote:The graded school of 1902 was one of several Kinston buildings designed by Herbert Woodley Simpson. In 1901, the New Berne Weekly Journal of June 28 noted that Simpson's drawing of the Kinston Graded School, designed by Simpson, was on display at a local shop window.
- Dates:1904Location:New Bern, Craven CountyStreet Address:Hancock St., New Bern, NCStatus:No longer standingType:EducationalNote:On June 13, 1904, the Goldsboro Daily Argus reported that Porter was returning to Goldsboro from New Bern where he had a "graded school" project underway. The New Berne Weekly Journal of June 9, 1905, carried a history of the New Bern Graded School for whites, which stated that in 1904 the foundations were laid for an additional building at the school site, which already had two earlier buildings (see Samuel Sloan). The existing buildings had become too crowded. The "modern" building with four rooms, an office, and hallways, cost $10,000 and had its main entrance toward Hancock Street. The New Bern Daily Journal of June 14, 1903, carried a call for bids from contractors and noted that plans and specifications could be obtained from architect Herbert Woodley Simpson. The new building was newly completed in December, 1904 (New Bern Daily Journal, December 3, 1904) and blackboards, window shades newly installed; pictures "taken from the masterpieces of great artists will soon adorn the rooms."
- Dates:1906Location:Goldsboro, Wayne CountyStreet Address:111-115 N. John St., Goldsboro, NCStatus:StandingType:FraternalNote:The eclectic brick building features foliated columns at the corner entrance.
- Variant Name(s):Heyer BuildingDates:1905Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:123 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:The magnificent 5-story pressed brick and brownstone building in forceful Romanesque Revival style featured tall, round-arched bays rising through three stories. Its structure included steel trusses, beams, and girders, and it boasted such modern conveniences as an elevator, steam heat, and gas and electric lights. Located on a premier corner site, it included prestigious shops and offices. After a period of deline, it was razed in 1959 and replaced by a new bank.
- Dates:1882Location:Snow Hill, Greene CountyStreet Address:SE 4th St., Snow Hill, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Note:Showing Episcopalians' continuing taste for the picturesque Gothic Revival in the spirit of Richard Upjohn's Rural Architecture, the small board and batten covered church features pointed arched windows and shares with Grace Episcopal Church in Jones County an arcaded cornice linking the battens.