Foulk, S. W. (1848-1932)
Sidney W. Foulk (1848-1932), often referred to as S. W. Foulk, was a native of Ohio who spent most of his career in New Castle, Pennsylvania. He developed an architectural practice that specialized in schools, churches, and YMCA facilities and reached into several states. He generally favored a robust Romanesque Revival style. In North Carolina, his best-known work is the imposing West Market Street Methodist Church (begun 1893) in Greensboro, a magnificent example of the Romanesque Revival, auditorium-Akron plan churches built throughout the nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Several congregations in the state built such churches, but this is one of the few still standing.
According to genealogical and secondary historical sources, Sidney Winfield Foulk was born and educated in Trumbull County, Ohio, the son of Rebecca and George Foulk, of a family that had come from the Rhineland in Germany to New York in the early 18th century. Trumbull County in northeastern Ohio, like neighboring counties in northwestern Pennsylvania, had a strongly Germanic heritage. In the 1850s, George and Rebecca and their family including Sidney moved a short distance westward to Greenville, Pennsylvania.
How Sidney gained his training in building and architecture is not established. In 1880, carpenter Foulk, aged 31, headed a household in Greenville that included his wife Emma, 28, and three young children. Foulk identified himself as an architect and builder in newspaper advertisements, such as the Greenville, Pennsylvania, Record-Argus (June 17, 1880). In one advertisement he cited his proficiency in “Stair Building in all Its Branches” and promised all work in “the latest improved style.” Soon, like others of his day, he shed his identity as a builder to focus on being an architect. (Late in life, he identified himself to the census taker as a cabinetmaker, but for most of his career he called himself an architect.).
Foulk evidently moved to New Castle, Pennsylvania, in 1883. During the 1880s he advertised as an architect in New Castle newspapers, offering plans, specifications, and estimates furnished promptly and “work done in modern style.” Among his local projects were several residences and Newcastle’s First Methodist Church, begun in 1887. A major opportunity came when he gained the commission to design the buildings for the new campus of present Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, where he planned eight buildings in between 1888 and 1906 for the normal school founded in 1889. He also gained commissions in many other states.
For several years Foulk had his office in the Newcastle YMCA building. Possibly this situation led to his specialization in such facilities, which helped him expand his geographical range at a time when YMCAs were being built in towns across the country. In 1888, the Staunton, Virginia Spectator reported on April 18 that he had planned the new YMCA in that city and noted that he was by then a specialist in such facilities, having planned many others including one in Norfolk. He was also engaged in planning a YMCA in Independence, Missouri (New Castle Daily City News, May 25, 1888).
It was evidently his reputation for YMCA buildings that brought him to North Carolina. The Wilmington Morning Star of August 10, 1890, carried an announcement that may mark his first work in the state. The newspaper reported that the “eminent architect” from New Castle, Pennsylvania, was to be in town on August 20 to submit plans for the new YMCA building and noted, “Mr. Foulk has had much experience in designing buildings for Y. M. C. Associations throughout the country, and is at present designing a building for that purpose at Columbia, S. C.” The Wilmington Messenger of August 19 reported that he had been selected as the architect and was to present drawings to the building committee that evening. In 1891, the Wilmington Messenger reported that he was staying at the city’s prominent Orton Hotel. His new YMCA in Wilmington was a 3-story, Romanesque Revival brick edifice that contained a large auditorium used for many civic purposes.
Foulk’s best-known standing work in North Carolina is the West Market Street Methodist Church in Greensboro. An account in the Greensboro Telegram of April 1, 1901 recalled that the building committee met first on April 19, 1893 and soon advertised for plans. “Several architects submitted designs, and after careful consideration the committee selected the plans submitted by S. W. Foulk of New Castle, Pa.” Foulk’s large, asymmetrically composed edifice of dark red brick and rough-hewn granite features broad gables alternating with robust curving forms in the corner towers and arched entry. Its classic Akron auditorium plan has a curved and sloping sanctuary and adjoining classrooms with movable partitions to form one large space when needed—a “vast auditorium” to seat 2,000 at a time when Greensboro had about 10,000 people. Coming in the depression of the mid-1890s, the project provided vital employment to many workers. The stained glass is described as having come from the German pavilion at the Chicago World’s Fair. The project took several years and required Foulk’s presence for long periods. In 1894 the New Castle News reported that Foulk had left on a trip to North Carolina where he had “some buildings in the course of erection.” The church was dedicated in 1901.
Foulk’s next known project in North Carolina was the rebuilding of Greensboro Female College (Greensboro College Main Building), which had burned in 1904. The college leaders immediately set about erecting a new building, using what could be saved of the earlier structure. Foulk evidently gained the commission because of his work at West Market Street Methodist Church; the college was a Methodist institution, with many of the same leaders as that congregation. When the college building committee selected Foulk as architect, the Greensboro Patriot of February 24, 1904 noted that he had submitted an “admirable plan for utilizing the walls of the burned structure in a bigger and far better building, which will take its place. He was still identified as being of New Castle, Pennsylvania. At a time when the growing city of Greensboro had few resident architects, Foulk saw sufficient promise to establish an office there. S. W. Foulk and Son “of Greensboro” was one of several architectural firms that submitted plans for a Carnegie library in Greensboro; Hook and Sawyer of Charlotte won the commission. (Other architects submitting plans were Frank Pierce Milburn of Columbia, S. C., Mr. Wheeler (surely Oliver Duke Wheeler) of Charlotte, and a Mr. Bryant also of Charlotte. The winning design was to be “sent to Mr. Carnegie for his approval” (Greensboro Patriot, July 20, 1904). S. W. and his son Frank H. Foulk advertised in the Chapel Hill Daily Tar Heel their firm of “S. W. Foulk and Son, Architects,” with offices at 302 1/2 S. Elm Street in Greensboro as well as at the Methodist Protestant Publishing House Building” in New Castle. The Greensboro city directory of 1905 noted S. W. Foulk and Son as architects with “church architecture a speciality” at the Elm Street address, and Sidney’s residence at 629 Asheboro Street.
The Foulk and Son firm gained additional commissions in North Carolina including the Planters’ tobacco warehouse to be built on Greene Street in High Point (High Point Weekly Enterprise, August 2, 1905); several schools in Greensboro (Charlotte Observer, April 25, 1907); and other projects about which little is known. An especially prominent commission was the First Baptist Church in Fayetteville. In 1905, the Wilmington, North Carolina Weekly Star announced on February 10 that S. W. Foulk and Son of Greensboro were preparing plans for an $18,000 edifice for the congregation in Fayetteville, which was to be of brick, 75 by 122 feet, with a slate roof and electric lights. Like the Methodist church in Greensboro, this church was designed with adjoining auditorium and Sunday school rooms which could be joined to seat more than 2,000 people. It was to be of pressed brick with limestone trim and three tall towers (Greensboro News, March 20, 1906).
In 1907 the Greensboro Patriot reported on June 26 that Foulk had gone to Greeley, Colorado, where he expected to remain for several months. He evidently never returned to North Carolina. He left Pennsylvania after 1908 and practiced in Colorado and Texas before retiring to California. His sons Frank and Ralph worked with him for several years. By 1914 Sidney Foulk had retired to Long Beach, California. The New Castle News of October 13, 1932, carried a brief notation of his death at age 84, in Long Beach, California. After Sidney retired, his son Frank continued the firm, and the office of S.W. Foulk and Son operated in New Castle for several more years.
- Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
- Marvin A. Brown, Greensboro: An Architectural Record (1995).
- “Foulk, Sidney Winfield,” Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950, http://dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/node/772.
- Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania . . . Preservation Plan (2007), http://www.phlf.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/slipperyrock_02_21_2007_lowrez.pdf.
1904; 1941 and laterLocation:Greensboro, Guilford CountyStreet Address:
College Place and W. Market St., Greensboro, NCStatus:
EducationalImages Published In:
Marvin A. Brown, Greensboro: An Architectural Record (1995).Note:
Greensboro College was established in 1838 under Methodist aegis and opened its campus in 1846 as one of the first women’s colleges in the state. The initial main building burned in 1863 but the school reopened in 1873. After the main building burned again in 1903, Foulk designed the current building using elements of the preceding building. It was updated after yet another fire in 1941.
1893-1901Location:Greensboro, Guilford CountyStreet Address:
302 W. Market St., Greensboro, NCStatus:
ReligiousImages Published In:
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
Marvin A. Brown, Greensboro: An Architectural Record (1995).Note:
The West Market Street Methodist Church reportedly cost $52,000. In addition to employing many artisans and laborers, construction benefited local suppliers, with the woodwork coming from the Bain Building Company (see William Carter Bain), the brick from the Kirkpatrick Brick Yard, and the granite from the Mount Airy quarry. Church history states that the fine stained glass came from the German Pavilion at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. The auditorium plan sanctuary and the Sunday school rooms may be joined as one great space in the manner called the Akron plan. The church remains a vital presence in downtown Greensboro.
- Variant Name(s):
Brunswick Hotel; O’Berry HotelDates:
1891Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:
301-305 N. Front St., Wilmington, NCStatus:
No longer standingType:
RecreationalImages Published In:
Susan Taylor Block, Cape Fear Lost (1999).
Beverly Tetterton, Wilmington: Lost But Not Forgotten (2005).Note:
The 1891 Y. M. C. A. was later used as the O’Berry Hotel and the Brunswick Hotel. Its purpose was supplanted when a “new” Y was completed in 1913. Both buildings have been destroyed.