Wray, Joseph M. (1876-1931)
Jackson County, North Carolina, USA
- Canton, North Carolina
- Wayne County, North Carolina
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Joseph M. Wray (1876-1931), a native of western North Carolina and a member of a family long established in the region, became a builder in the paper manufacturing town of Canton. He was one of many men who came of age in a rural world and adapted to industrial development and urban growth by developing building skills to meet new local demands.
As a young man, Joseph Wray worked at the Waynesville Wood Manufacturing Company and the Unagusta Manufacturing Company, large furniture factories established in Haywood County after the railroad opened the mountains’ rich timber resources to national markets. Wray acquired construction skills through correspondence courses, studying building construction and draftsmanship with the International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania. By 1907 his credentials and skills were sufficient for him to become foreman of construction for the Canton Graded School, a large 2-story brick building. After completing that project, Wray established a contracting business in Canton, a town growing fast in a long-rural mountain setting because of the establishment of the Champion Fibre Company pulp and tannin extract mills and paper manufacturing facilities.
Wray’s skills and capacity suited the needs of the changing locale. Within eight years of building the school in Canton, Wray completed several projects, including three commercial buildings in downtown Canton; the Haywood Infirmary in the county seat of Waynesville; and the Haywood Institute and the Methodist Episcopal Church in the nearby railroad town of Clyde. By 1915, he began to advertise himself as an architect, and in the next year, a special edition of the Carolina Mountaineer lauded him as “an expert in his line and a student of the latest ideas.” His World War I registration card identified him as Joseph Marion Wray, born November 25, 1876, a resident of Canton, a carpenter, and married to Alda Wray. In 1920, he was listed in the United States census as head of household in Beaver Dam, Haywood County, with Alda and their children Eva, Elizabeth, and Joseph; he was identified as a contractor who built houses.
By 1930, Wray (Ray) had moved to Asheville where he was still working as a contractor; his wife Alda, and probably their son Joseph, had died in the interim, for Wray had remarried, to Georgia, and their household included his daughters Eva and Elizabeth. In 1931, Joseph M. Wray, a native of Jackson County, a house builder and contractor born in 1875, died in Asheville, leaving his widow Georgia.
In addition to the building list, several buildings beyond Haywood County have been credited to Wray, but little is known of their location or status. These come chiefly from the 1916 “Special Industrial and Resort Edition” of the Carolina Mountaineer and include the following: Henderson County, Hendersonville, C. J. Jeffress House (ca. 1915); Madison County, Marshall, Methodist Episcopal Church (1913); Swain County, Bryson City, Lee Francis Building, ca. 1910; Yancey County, Barnardville, M. M. Gudger Store, ca. 1915.
- Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
- Carolina Mountaineer, “Special Industrial and Resort Edition” (1916).
- United States Census.
- Camille Wells, Canton: The Architecture of Our Home Town (1985).
- Camille Wells, interview with R. R. Gaddis (Canton builder), May 5, 1981.