Sirrine, Joseph Emory (1872-1947)
J. E. Sirrine
Americus, Georgia, USA
- Greenville, South Carolina
Styles & Forms:
Craftsman; Romanesque Revival
Joseph Emory Sirrine (December 9, 1872-1947) was a Greenville, South Carolina, industrial architect and engineer who in 1921 established J. E. Sirrine and Company, a large firm of national reputation. He and his firm worked extensively in North Carolina, planning and building textile mills and other facilities during the state’s dramatic early 20th century industrial development. Although many industrial architects and engineers of the period were northern men, Sirrine was one of several southerners who emerged as leaders in the field including North Carolina natives Stuart W. Cramer and C. R. Makepeace and South Carolina-born Daniel A. Tompkins all of whom made strong contributions to North Carolina’s industrial architecture.
Joseph E. Sirrine was born in Americus, Georgia, to George William and Sarah Euodias Rylander Sirrine. His father was a carriage and wagon manufacturer in Americus and later in Charlotte, North Carolina. Joseph was educated at the Greenville, South Carolina Military Institute (1883-1886) and at Furman University in Greenville, where he received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1890. He commenced professional practice as an engineer in Greenville in 1890. In 1898, he married Jane Pinckney Henry. Sirrine soon became one of the leading businessmen in the New South city of Greenville and one of its most influential citizens.
Early in his career, Sirrine was employed by the nationally renowned industrial architecture and engineering firm of Lockwood, Greene, and Company, in their newly established southern office in Greenville in the heart of the Carolinas textile belt. One of the most important firms of its type in the nation, the New England based Lockwood, Greene, and Company was formed in 1882 in Providence, Rhode Island, by Amos Lockwood and Stephen Greene. After Lockwood’s death in 1884, the business continued under the same name under the leadership of Stephen Greene (who died in 1901) and his son, Edwin, and beyond. Between 1884 and 1901, the company expanded dramatically, including establishment of a Boston office, pioneering work in electric power for textile mills, and development of southern markets.
When Lockwood, Greene was planning its first mill in Greenville in 1894, the firm employed the young civil engineer Joseph E. Sirrine to do some of the local work, and subsequently hired him for additional jobs. In 1898 Sirrine became a fulltime employee, and when the company established its first regional branch office, the southern office in Greenville, Sirrine became head of the office and southern manager for the firm. According to a history of the company, Sirrine “represented Greene on all work in this territory until the latter’s death in 1901.” Sirrine is said to have supervised from six to eight mill jobs at the same time, a total of about twenty mills in the three-year period. His role appears to have been primarily supervisory, with much of the actual engineering and architectural work coming from the firm’s office in Boston. During his tenure, the Lockwood, Greene Company planned many factories—most of them in South Carolina—among which the immense Loray Mill (1900-1902) in Gastonia, North Carolina, was especially important as one of the largest and most technologically advanced mills in the nation. Sirrine’s initials, J. E. S., appear on a plan of the Loray village, showing the layout of streets and buildings. Frank W. Reynolds, another Lockwood, Greene employee, initialed the drawings for the mill itself. Sirrine’s involvement in these and other Lockwood, Greene projects requires further research.
In 1902 Sirrine resumed independent practice as an architect and engineer in Greenville, and he maintained his office until his death in 1947. A large number of the draftsmen and designers who worked with him later became prominent architects. Among these were Joseph G. Cunningham, H. Olin Jones, Hugh Chapman, James D. Beacham, and Leon LeGrand, the latter two of whom practiced in Asheville and western North Carolina.
J. E. Sirrine of Greenville, South Carolina, was licensed to practice architecture in North Carolina in 1916. His license certificate was #74 in the official registration book of the North Carolina Board of Architecture.
In 1921, as business expanded, Sirrine formed a partnership with eight of his associates, called J. E. Sirrine and Company. His letterhead in that year read, “J. E. Sirrine & Company, Successors to J. E. Sirrine, Mill Architect and Engineer, Greenville, S. C.” The firm’s practice spanned the eastern and southeastern United States, with projects as far away as Maine and Texas. During the 1920s, the company had an office in Dallas, Texas. The firm specialized in textile mill projects, pulp and paper mills, power plants, municipal facilities, tobacco factories, and aluminum plants, providing both architectural and engineering services. Sirrine served on the boards of many major southeastern industrial companies, including nineteen textile companies in South Carolina and elsewhere. Among these was the Marion Manufacturing Company, in Marion, North Carolina. He also served on various boards and committees to represent the interests of the textile industry.
J. E. Sirrine and his firm were responsible for mills, mill village housing, tobacco factories and storage facilities, and other buildings as far west as Asheville and as far east as Roanoke Rapids; further exploration and documentation of the firm’s work is needed. In 1923, the company placed an advertisement in the magazine Commerce and Finance citing their work for Greensboro’s major textile plants—Pomona Mill Company, Proximity Manufacturing Company, Proximity Print Works, Revolution Cotton Mills, and White Oak Cotton Mills. These were large complexes established several years earlier (all but Pomona by the Cone family); the Sirrine advertisement stated that “our work for them has covered several phases of engineering” but did not indicate which of these textile plants’ buildings Sirrine and Company had worked on.
The Manufacturers’ Record and Nannie Mae Tilley’s history of the R. J. Reynolds Company indicate that Sirrine’s firm planned several buildings for the Reynolds company in Winston-Salem during the industry’s expansion in the early 20th century. Not all of these buildings have been specifically identified or confirmed as Sirrine’s work. Further information on Sirrine buildings in Winston-Salem is especially sought, for the city retains a number of industrial buildings including tobacco facilities of architectural distinction from his period.
A characteristic feature of the Sirrine company’s designs was the use of “mushroom” type concrete columns and cast concrete floors. One of Sirrine’s most intact surviving buildings is the Grinnell/General Fire Extinguisher Company Complex in Charlotte, which features reinforced concrete, steel, and brick construction and large, unimpeded spaces. During World War II, the firm company planned many military installations, including air bases, ammunition depots, shipyards, and military camps, including work at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The firm continued for many years after its founder’s death and was acquired in 1983 by CRSS, an engineering company based in Texas.
Note: The building list for Sirrine (covering the period of his lifetime) reflects data obtained mainly from notices in the Manufacturers Record. Only a few of these have been confirmed. For many of these and other industrial buildings of the early 20th century,there is little information about their status or survival. Many have been renamed, altered, or destroyed. For textile mills, especially, recent losses have been extensive, and examples standing only a few years ago have been lost. Further information is sought about the status and location of these projects, as well as other work by Sirrine and other similar companies.
- 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.
- Commerce and Finance, Nov. 14, 1923, photocopy in Charlotte Vestal Brown Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Construction (Sept. 1947).
- Lisa P. Davidson, “Loray Mill, Gastonia, North Carolina” report (HABS-HAER NC-45).
- Greenville, South Carolina City Directory, various issues.
- Samuel B. Lincoln, Lockwood Greene: The History of An Engineering Business, 1832-1958 (1960).
- Manufacturers’ Record, various issues.
- David Duncan Wallace, History of South Carolina (1934).
- John E. Wells and Robert E. Dalton, The South Carolina Architects, 1885-1935: A Biographical Dictionary (1992).
- Who’s Who in Commerce and Industry (1944).
- Dates:1925Location:Balfour, Henderson CountyStreet Address:Balfour, NCStatus:UnknownType:ResidentialNote:See Manufacturers' Record (Sept. 3, 1925).
- Dates:1923Location:Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:Chadwick-Hoskins Mill Village, NCStatus:UnknownType:ResidentialNote:See Manufacturers' Record (June 28, 1923). The Sirrine company announced 25 tenement houses for the Chadwick-Hoskins Company.
- Dates:1920Location:Canton, Haywood CountyStreet Address:Main St., Canton, NCStatus:No longer standingType:RecreationalImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
Camille Wells, Canton: The Architecture of Our Home Town (1985).
- Dates:1915Location:Marion, McDowell CountyStreet Address:Bounded by Hill St., 4th St., 7th St., and Lamar St., East Marion, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialNote:See Manufacturers' Record (Dec. 16, 1915) with illustration. It is believed that the Clinchfield Cotton Mill is standing. The mill was established in 1914, and plant #1 was completed in 1915, followed by #2 in 1917-1918. The village included about 235 frame dwellings and other buildings.
- Dates:1922Location:Lexington, Davidson CountyStreet Address:100 Mill St., Lexington, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialNote:See Manufacturers' Record (July 13, 1922). The Erlanger Cotton Mills at 100 Mill Street includes a one-story building that encompassed a cloth room and storage space (according to the 1923 Sanborn Map); it stands west of the north end of the 1913 building.
- Dates:1916Location:Lexington, Davidson CountyStreet Address:Erlanger Mill Village, Lexington, NCStatus:StandingType:Industrial
ResidentialNote:In 1916 Sirrine announced construction of 80 bungalows, a hotel, a school, and an addition to the Y.M.C.A building in the mill village of Erlanger (Manufacturers' Record (June 22, 1916). Much of the early 20th century Erlanger Mill Village still stands, including many Craftsman style bungalows from this period. A company brochure of 1917 stated, "the employees' cottages in the newer portion of the village are the most modern bungalow designs, being built with great individuality from thirty original special drawings." Noted landscape designer Earle Sumner Draper planned a portion of the village for a company that emphasized good living conditions. The houses are similar to those built elsewhere from designs by the Minter Homes Company. See Heather Fearnbach, Erlanger Mill Village Historic District, National Register of Historic Places nomination (2007).
- Dates:1923Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Durham, NCStatus:UnknownType:Industrial
ResidentialNote:Sirrine announced work for the large Erwin Cotton Mills Village (Manufacturers' Record, Oct. 11, 1923), but the particular buildings were not specified. The project was probably for workers' houses for operatives, some of which may still stand in West Durham. The image shows the Erwin Cotton Mills and, in the background, the Erwin Cotton Mills Village.
- Dates:1929-1930Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:1431 W. Morehead St., Charlotte, NCStatus:StandingType:Industrial
- Dates:1920Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:Charlotte, NCStatus:UnknownType:IndustrialNote:See Manufacturers' Record (June 24, 1920).
- Contributors:Joseph Emory Sirrine, plannerDates:Ca. 1900-1902Location:Gastonia, Gaston CountyStreet Address:Gastonia, NCStatus:StandingType:Industrial
ResidentialNote:A drawing of the layout of the mill village is signed "J. E. S.," for Joseph Emory Sirrine. The plans for initial construction of the mill itself were initialed by "F.W.R" for Frank W. Reynolds.
- Dates:1924Location:Yadkin, Rowan CountyStreet Address:US 29 at Yadkin River, Yadkin, NCStatus:No longer standingType:IndustrialNote:See Manufacturers' Record (July 10, 1924). This building was part of a large industrial complex that stood until the early 21st century beside the Yadkin River, on a tract for which redevelopment has been planned. Whether Sirrine planned other buildings for the complex is not known. Most of the buildings at the site have been razed.
- Dates:1924Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:North Carolina State University Campus, Raleigh, NCStatus:StandingType:IndustrialNote:See Manufacturers' Record (Apr. 17, 1924; July 31, 1924). University records document Sirrine's role in the Power Plant project. The smokestack beside the power plant is a campus landmark, with "State College" spelled out vertically.
- Dates:1925Location:Winston-Salem, Forsyth CountyStreet Address:Main St. and 6th St., Winston-Salem, NCStatus:UnknownType:IndustrialImages Puslished In:Molly Grogan Rawls, Old Salem and Salem College (2010).Note:See Manufacturers' Record (Sept. 17, 1925). This building may have been built as part of the P. H. Hanes Knitting Company complex, which now comprises a 1920-1921 Knitting Mill Building (675 N. Main St.); a 5-story building (1928, 101 E. Sixth St., SE of the knitting building)—possibly Sirrine's project; and a 6-story Warehouse and Shipping Building (1940, 600 N. Chestnut St.).
- Dates:1925Location:Greensboro, Guilford CountyStreet Address:Proximity Mill Village, Greensboro, NCStatus:No longer standingType:IndustrialNote:See Manufacturers' Record (Mar. 26, 1925). Most of the Proximity manufacturing facilities have been razed, though many of the mill village houses still stand. It is possible that Sirrine and Company planned the Proximity YMCA or other facilities, which still stand. The accompanying image shows several of the Cone Mills and villages. It is not known whether the Proximity Warehouse is among these buildings. This view suggests the scale of operations in the early to mid-20th century in the industrial landscape Sirrine's firm helped to create.
- Dates:1915Location:Winston-Salem, Forsyth CountyStreet Address:3rd St. at Chestnut St., Winston-Salem, NCStatus:AlteredType:IndustrialImages Puslished In:Molly Grogan Rawls, Winston-Salem: Then and Now (2008).Note:See Manufacturers' Record (Aug. 26, 1915; Oct. 14, 1915). A report from the field (thanks to Heather Fearnbach) indicates the following: This may be the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Factory #12 at 201 N. Chestnut St., built by the National Fireproofing Company of Philadelphia. Only the interior survives, for it has been incorporated into the new Forsyth County Governmental Center, which now occupies the site (the block bounded by E. 2nd St., N. Chestnut St., E. 3rd St., N. Patterson Ave.). The tobacco building stands at the north end of the new building and was reused as a parking deck. Concrete mushroom columns and formed concrete floors indicate its previous use. All of the windows were removed, and new exterior walls were constructed in keeping with the design of the new building. The parapet on the north (3rd St.) side recalls the original parapet, inscribed "1916 Bldg #12 R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company."
- Dates:1923Location:Roanoke Rapids, Halifax CountyStreet Address:Roanoke Rapids, NCStatus:UnknownType:IndustrialNote:See Manufacturers' Record (June 28, 1923). Most of the textile manufacturing buildings at Roanoke Rapids have been razed.
- Dates:1901; 1904 [expanded]Location:Roanoke Rapids, Halifax CountyStreet Address:Rosemary Mill Village, Roanoke Rapids, NCStatus:UnknownType:IndustrialNote:A facility for the Rosemary Manufacturing Company in Roanoke Rapids has been attributed to Sirrine, but not documented. Most of the textile manufacturing buildings at Roanoke Rapids have been razed.
- Dates:1925-1927Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Swannanoa River Rd. at Swannanoa Dr., Asheville, NCStatus:No longer standingType:IndustrialImages Puslished In:E. M. Ball Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Asheville, North Carolina.Note:See Manufacturers' Record (Mar. 19, 1925). The plant was razed and the site has been redeveloped.
- Dates:1925-1927Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:South Tunnel Rd., Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:See Manufacturers' Record (Mar. 19, 1925). Although some of the village has been lost, much still stands.
- Dates:1926Location:High Point, Guilford CountyStreet Address:High Ave., High Point, NCStatus:UnknownType:IndustrialNote:See Manufacturers' Record (Apr. 15, 1926). The building designed by Sirrine may be part of the large Tomlinson Furniture Company complex on S. High Ave. at Elm St., which developed from about 1900 onward.
- Dates:1902-1940sLocation:Greensboro, Guilford CountyStreet Address:Greensboro, NCStatus:AlteredType:IndustrialNote:One of the Cone family's largest textile enterprises near Greensboro, White Oak was begun in 1902 and expanded over the years. Sirrine listed White Oak among the firm's clients in 1923, though it is not clear what projects the firm executed.