Richards, Henry, Sr. (1813-1890)
Henry Richards, Sr. (1813-1890), was a native Hillsborough brickmason who worked with Hillsborough builder John Berry as his associate and masonry overseer. Succeeding Berry’s mentor Samuel Hancock in that role, Richards probably oversaw many important projects built by Berry’s shop throughout the Piedmont.
The Richards family had resided in Hillsborough since 1769, when Charles and John Richards purchased town lots there. It is probable that Henry Richards, Sr., was related to Susan Richards Hancock, the wife of Samuel Hancock. Both Henry Richards and John Berry were Masons and members of Hillsborough’s Eagle Lodge No. 19, chartered in 1791.
Richards was listed in the U.S. census of 1850 as a brickmason, aged 37, with property valued at $1,500, plus two slaves. He was head of a household that included his wife Eliza and their children, plus John Scarlett, 17, also a brickmason and probably an apprentice. Richards was associated with John Berry by 1850 and probably earlier. Their first documented project was a major Berry undertaking, construction of Smith Hall (Playmakers Theatre), designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis, at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. In a document of January 18, 1850, “Berry & Richards” submitted their “Proposal for building the University Library agreable [sic] to the plan & specificasion [sic] submitted by the trustees.” Although the signature “Berry & Richards” reads like a formal partnership, according to Berry’s granddaughter, the attorney Margaret Berry Street, Berry’s working association with Richards, as with Hancock earlier, was an informal one.
Richards appears to have worked steadily with Berry until Berry’s death in 1870. Having a reliable masonry supervisor was vital to Berry’s large operation, which sometimes included multiple projects at distant sites. Twice in the 1850s the two men worked on massive multi-story buildings on major contracts: in 1855 they accomplished the masonry contract for St. John’s College in Oxford (where Jacob W. Holt had the carpentry contract, which was managed by his brother Thomas J. Holt); and in 1859 the Hillsborough Military Academy Main Building and the brick Commandant’s House nearby. At the military academy, Berry and Richards were working from designs by architect John A. Kay of Columbia, South Carolina.
After John Berry’s death in 1870, Richards is believed to have helped complete the Berry Building in downtown Hillsborough, which Berry had begun. Richards continued in his trade as a brickmason, and was so listed with his family in the U.S. censuses of 1870 and 1880, and at least two of his children, Henry, Jr., and Meredith, became brickmasons as well. However, no works have been attributed to Richards beyond those associated with Berry.
The home of Henry Richards, Sr., and his wife Eliza J. Adams Richards (1821-1902) still stands in Hillsborough, enlarged and altered, at 307 West King Street. At least seven members of the Richards family, including Henry and Eliza and their five sons, are buried in the Richards family plot in the southwest corner of Hillsborough’s Old Town Cemetery.
Note for building list: In the absence of written records, attributions of Henry Richards’s work with John Berry are made chiefly on the basis of local tradition and information from Margaret Berry Street, who was interviewed by the author.
- John V. Allcott, “Scholarly Books and Frolicsome Blades: A. J. Davis Designs a Library-Ballroom,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 33.2 (May 1974).
- Mary Claire Engstrom, interview with Margaret Berry Street, notes in Mary Claire Engstrom Research Files, Mary Claire Engstrom Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
- Mary Claire Engstrom Research Files, Mary Claire Engstrom Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
- Orange County Records (Deeds, Marriage Bonds, Tax Lists, Wills), North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Robert B. Studebaker, History of Eagle Lodge: Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons, Hillsboro, N. C., 1791-1937 (1937).
- University Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
- Dates:1869-1870Location:Hillsborough, Orange CountyStreet Address:105 N. Churton St., Hillsborough, NCStatus:No longer standingType:CommercialImages Puslished In:Lucile Noel Dula, Pelican Guide to Hillsborough (1979).Note:John Berry had begun this project but caught cold and died. It was completed after his death. Another building replaced it on the site in 1927.
- Dates:1859-1861Location:Hillsborough, Orange CountyStreet Address:Hillsborough Military Academy, Barracks Rd., Hillsborough, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Lucile Noel Dula, Pelican Guide to Hillsborough (1979).
Mills B. Lane, Architecture of the Old South: North Carolina (1985).
- Dates:1860-1861Location:Hillsborough, Orange CountyStreet Address:100 block W. Tryon St., Hillsborough, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Lucile Noel Dula, Pelican Guide to Hillsborough (1979).
- Variant Name(s):The BarracksDates:1859-1860Location:Hillsborough, Orange CountyStreet Address:Barracks Rd., Hillsborough, NCStatus:No longer standingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Allen Alexander Lloyd and Pauline O. Lloyd, History of the Town of Hillsborough (n.d.).
- Dates:1844-1845Location:Hillsborough, Orange CountyStreet Address:Courthouse Square, Hillsborough, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages 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).
Frances Benjamin Johnston and Thomas Tileston Waterman, The Early Architecture of North Carolina (1941).
- Variant Name(s):Playmakers TheatreDates:1849-1852; 1924-1925 [internally reconstructed]Location:Chapel Hill, Orange CountyStreet Address:University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:John V. Allcott, "Scholarly Books and Frolicsome Blades: A. J. Davis Designs a Library-Ballroom," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 33.2 (May 1974).
Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
Edward T. Davis and John L. Sanders, A Romantic Architect in Antebellum North Carolina: The Works of Alexander Jackson Davis (2000).
- Variant Name(s):Oxford OrphanageDates:1855-1857Location:Oxford, Granville CountyStreet Address:Corner of College St. and Alexander Ave., Oxford, NCStatus:No longer standingType:FraternalImages Puslished In:Views: Pictorial History of the Oxford Orphanage (1922).Note:The immense St. John's College, a Masonic project, became the Oxford Orphanage after the Civil War, also a Masonic institution.