Lemly, Samuel (ca. 1790-1848)

Birthplace:

Rowan County, North Carolina, USA

Residences:

  • Rowan County, North Carolina
  • Mississippi

Trades:

  • Builder
  • Carpenter/Joiner

Styles & Forms:

Federal; Greek Revival

Samuel Lemly (ca. 1790-1848) was a master carpenter, contractor, and planter in Rowan County, North Carolina who was responsible for several building projects in the western piedmont including a major bridge over the South Yadkin River (1825) and the first eight buildings at Davidson College (1836-1838). His career as a master builder in North Carolina covered the period from the 1810s through the 1830s, after which he moved to Mississippi, where he died and was buried in Jackson.

Samuel Lemly was born in Rowan County in 1790 or 1791 and is thought to have been the son of Henry and Catherine Lemly. In 1811 he married Betsy Furr(er), the daughter of Tobias Furr. The couple had at least seven children, of whom four lived to adulthood: Henry Augustus (1812-1886), who married Amanda Conrad; Samuel, Jr. (dates unknown), who married Emeline Steele; Mary Elizabeth (1822-1892), who married John I. Shaver (1810-1873), a wealthy Salisbury businessman; Ithiel Town (1823-1844), named for the noted architect Ithiel Town, and who died in Smith County, Mississippi as a young man.

Little is known of Samuel Lemly’s early work, except for one house he built for Rowan County planter Samuel Savage on his plantation just outside Salisbury (Samuel Savage House). The contract for $300, dated November 24, 1812, described the house as “28 feet long & 16 feet wide with a Shed of 22 feet long & 12 wide, a passage of 8 feet to be taken off one end of the house for the stairs to run up in with one partition up Stairs with the necessary number of Windows & doors the work to be done in a plain neat workmanlike manner.” Such a description, and such a house, typified substantial but modest buildings throughout the region in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The house is not known to survive.

Records suggest that Lemly was at his most active as a carpenter and builder in the 1820s. In August 1819 he took William Kent, a free Negro, as apprentice to the house carpenter’s trade, and during the 1820s he apprenticed six other youths: Alfred Huie (August 1822); Anderson Cowan (July 1823); Samuel Kent, a free Negro (February 1824); David Fraley (May 1824); Jeremiah Brown (November 1825); and Joseph Hampton (November 1827). It was probably during the 1820s that he also took as apprentice Michael Davis, who became a noted local builder. Such was Lemly’s local reputation that when Davis died at age 76, the Carolina Watchman of November 10, 1881, recalled that as a young man Davis had “concluded to learn also the carpenter’s trade, and engaged himself for this purpose to the late Col. Sam’l Lemly, who at that time was a master builder in this place [Salisbury].” In the U. S. census of 1820, Lemly was listed as head of a household comprising twelve free white persons, five of whom were males of an age to be apprentices or employees. By 1830 his household included 25 people, of whom ten were slaves, and five were free young white men who included his sons, employees, and apprentices.

The year 1824 was a busy one for Lemly. He and Jacob Stirewalt of Cabarrus County had received an appointment from the commissioners for the Cabarrus County Courthouse to superintend construction of their new edifice. According to R. W. Allison’s history of the county, Stirewalt and Lemly were contractors for the building, which was completed in 1826 and destroyed by fire in 1875. In the same year, as reported the May 23, 1824, Western Carolinian of Salisbury, Lemly was commissioner of public buildings for Rowan County as well; whether he took part in construction of that county’s 1820s courthouse or other public buildings is not known.

During the 1820s, Lemly built the structure that brought him the greatest acclaim: the great bridge over the South Yadkin River near Salisbury, from the design patented by famed engineer, architect, and bridge designer Ithiel Town. The South Yadkin River Bridge was a source of great local pride and a sign of progress promoted in the local newspaper. On August 3, 1824, the Western Carolinian carried a long account of the “South Yadkin Bridge,” reporting that the county’s contract to build the bridge had been let to Lemly. “The Bridge will be about 200 feet long, and 16 feet wide, to be built on the principles of Mr. Town’s patent bridge.” It was anticipated that the bridge, which would be weatherboarded and covered with a shingle roof, would equal any in the South “for beauty and durability.” Lemly built a model of the bridge at the scale of one inch to the foot, which could be viewed at a local residence. The following June 14, 1825, the Western Carolinian published an announcement from the commissioners about the South Yadkin Bridge again, stating that it was to be completed and inspected and received from the contractor, Mr. Lemly, on July 2. The writers anticipated that the span would greatly benefit the local economy, and hoped that citizens would view it as a “monument of the public spirit that caused its erection, and of the faithfulness and skill of our fellow citizen who built it.” The bridge was the largest of several local projects, including repairs of the county courthouse and jail, for which Lemly was paid by the county during the period from 1825 to 1833. For a brief period, he was associated in a partnership with a Mr. Hackett, but that was dissolved by 1833, and Lemly began working as Samuel Lemly and Son.

In 1835, Samuel Lemly undertook eight brick buildings for Davidson College, a new Presbyterian school for men near Charlotte. The minutes of the Concord Presbytery recorded on October 10, 1835, that the building committee for the college had contracted for eight buildings to be built of brick on stone foundations and covered with tin roofs and “finished complete.” The college was to supply the brick. The contract had been given to Messrs. S. & J. Lemly and H. Owen (probably Henry Owen) for $10,250, to be paid in three installments in March of 1836, 1837, and 1838. These original buildings included three 2-story brick structures (a Chapel, a Steward’s Hall, and President’s House); two smaller buildings; and “3 blocks of Buildings one story high, 18 by 66 feet,” which were dormitories known as Oak Row, Elm Row, and Cedar Row. These dormitories and the president’s house and steward’s hall were completed for the opening session of the college in 1837, and the chapel was finished the following year. Of these, Oak and Elm rows, each with four chambers with individual outside entrances, survive as the oldest intact buildings on the campus.

After completing the work at Davidson, Lemly engaged in a variety of local enterprises. Near the end of his work at the college, Lemly took his last known apprentice, Christopher C. Lyerly, in February 1838. Later that year the Western Carolinian announced that a cotton factory was being built on the South Yadkin River, owned by “Messrs. Fisher and Lemly,” probably Charles Fisher and Samuel Lemly. Lemly may have been involved in its construction. He was also the president of the Rowan County Temperance society, and was active in community life.

In 1841, Lemly and his family joined the many people who left North Carolina in the antebellum period for the economically promising lands of the “old Southwest”—in Mississippi, Alabama, and other newly developing areas westward. On October 8 or 9, 1841, Samuel Lemly and his family—including his son’s family—packed their possessions into several wagons and left Salisbury for Mississippi, leaving behind their daughter and sister, Mary Elizabeth, who as the wife and widow of businessman of John I. Shaver, lived on in Salisbury for another fifty years.

Samuel Lemly’s death on January 6, 1848, in Jackson, Mississippi, was announced in the Carolina Watchman on February 3, 1848. The congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Salisbury passed a resolution memorializing Lemly, which was published in the Watchman on February 24. It recalled Lemly as a “zealous and faithful officer” of the church and Sunday school. “Whatever his hand found to do, he did it with his might.”

  • R. W. Allison, “History on Cabarrus County and Concord,” undated typescript, vertical file, Cannon Memorial Library, Concord, North Carolina.
  • Mary D. Beaty, Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937 (1979).
  • Carolina Watchman, Dec. 14, 1844; Feb. 3, 1848; Feb. 17, 1848; Feb. 24, 1848; Oct. 12, 1882.
  • James H. Craig, The Arts and Crafts in North Carolina, 1699-1840 (1965).
  • Davyd Foard Hood, The Architecture of Rowan County North Carolina: A Catalogue and History of Surviving 18th, 19th, and Early 20th Century Structures (1983).
  • Henry Lemly Estates Papers, Rowan County Records, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Salisbury Post, Apr. 11, 1971.
  • Salisbury Western Carolinian, May 24, 1824; July 13, 1824; Aug. 3, 1824; June 14, 1825; Oct. 11, 1825; July 13, 1833; July 6, 1838.
  • Cornelia Rebecca Shaw, Davidson College (1923).
Sort Building List by:
  • Cabarrus County Courthouse

    Contributors:
    Samuel Lemly, attributed builder; Jacob Stirewalt, attributed builder
    Dates:

    1824-1826

    Location:
    Concord, Cabarrus County
    Street Address:

    Union St., Concord, NC

    Status:

    No longer standing

    Type:

    Public


  • Cedar Row

    Contributors:
    Samuel Lemly, builder; H. Owen, builder
    Dates:

    1836-1837

    Location:
    Davidson, Mecklenburg County
    Street Address:

    Davidson College, Davidson, NC

    Status:

    No longer standing

    Type:

    Educational

    Images Published In:

    Mary D. Beaty, Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937 (1979).


  • Chapel

    Contributors:
    Samuel Lemly, builder; H. Owen, builder
    Dates:

    1836-1837

    Location:
    Davidson, Mecklenburg County
    Street Address:

    Davidson College, Davidson, NC

    Status:

    No longer standing

    Type:

    Educational

    Images Published In:

    Mary D. Beaty, Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937 (1979).


  • Elm Row

    Contributors:
    Samuel Lemly, builder; H. Owen, builder
    Dates:

    1836-1837

    Location:
    Davidson, Mecklenburg County
    Street Address:

    Davidson College, Davidson, NC

    Status:

    Standing

    Type:

    Educational

    Images Published In:

    Mary D. Beaty, Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937 (1979).


  • Oak Row

    Contributors:
    Samuel Lemly, builder; H. Owen, builder
    Dates:

    1836-1837

    Location:
    Davidson, Mecklenburg County
    Street Address:

    Davidson College, Davidson, NC

    Status:

    Standing

    Type:

    Educational

    Images Published In:

    Mary D. Beaty, Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937 (1979).


  • President's House

    Contributors:
    Samuel Lemly, builder; H. Owen, builder
    Dates:

    1836-1837

    Location:
    Davidson, Mecklenburg County
    Street Address:

    Davidson College, Davidson, NC

    Status:

    Altered

    Type:

    Educational

    Images Published In:

    Mary D. Beaty, Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937 (1979).


  • Rowan County Jail

    Contributors:
    Samuel Lemly, builder
    Dates:

    1832

    Location:
    Salisbury, Rowan County
    Street Address:

    Salisbury, NC

    Status:

    No longer standing

    Type:

    Public


  • Samuel Savage House

    Contributors:
    Samuel Lemly, builder
    Dates:

    1812-1813

    Location:
    Salisbury, Rowan County
    Street Address:

    Salisbury vicinity, NC

    Status:

    No longer standing

    Type:

    Residential


  • South Yadkin River Bridge

    Contributors:
    Samuel Lemly, builder; Ithiel Town, architect
    Dates:

    1824-1825

    Location:
    Rowan County
    Street Address:

    Rowan County, NC

    Status:

    No longer standing

    Type:

    Transportation

    Note:

    The existence of the South Yadkin River Bridge was relatively brief, as it was washed away in a freshet in 1852, after only a quarter of a century of service. The site of this bridge is uncertain; no stone piers mark its site. The South Yadkin River joins the main Yadkin River northeast of Salisbury. The crossing of the South Yadkin at or near the present US 601 bridge is most likely, but a location farther downstream near “the Point,” where the South Yadkin enters the Yadkin (site of the short-lived town of Clinton), is also a possibility.


  • Steward's Hall

    Contributors:
    Samuel Lemly, builder; H. Owen, builder
    Dates:

    1836-1837

    Location:
    Davidson, Mecklenburg County
    Street Address:

    Davidson College, Davidson, NC

    Status:

    No longer standing

    Type:

    Educational

    Images Published In:

    Mary D. Beaty, Davidson: A History of the Town from 1835 until 1937 (1979).


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