Wright Brothers (fl. 1900s-1950s)
William Benjamin Franklin “Dock” Wright (W. B. F.); James Robert Wright, Jr.; Joseph Few “Joe” Wright
Hendersonville, North Carolina, USA
- Brevard, North Carolina
Styles & Forms:
Colonial Revival; Craftsman; Gothic Revival; Rustic
The Wright Brothers, as they are known in Brevard, were outstanding and well-remembered among the stonemasons who used the abundant local stone in buildings, walls, chimneys, landscape features, and other elements in that mountain town and beyond. Members of a large family that was part of a strong regional tradition of stone working, they evidently learned their craft from their father, James R. Wright, Sr., in Hendersonville. While some of the Wright brothers stayed in Hendersonville, three of them—William (W. B. F., or “Dock”, 1879-1936), James Robert, Jr. (1894-1959), and Joseph Few (Joe, 1905-1986)—went to Brevard. There they mentored and worked with Fred Mills, an African-American stonemason. Although much of their work remains to be identified, the Wrights are associated locally with some of Brevard’s finest and most distinctive buildings including St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and several residences in which they produced various styles of stonework to suit the client’s desires
The longstanding stone architecture tradition of the region employed rounded stones gathered from streams, fieldstones, and stone hewn from local quarries. The early 20th century brought more extensive use of the material, which possessed esthetic qualities desired for picturesque and Arts and Crafts style buildings. Despite the many stone buildings in Brevard and vicinity, for only a few have the stonemasons been identified. This account is based mainly on Laura A. W. Phillips and Deborah Thompson, _Transylvania: An Architectural History of a Mountain County (_1998). The building list includes examples attributed by tradition as well as circumstantial and stylistic evidence.
The earliest documented surviving work by the Wright brothers is St. Phillips Episcopal Church (1926-1928) on East Main Street in Brevard, a Norman Revival style church designed by the noted Charlotte architect Louis H. Asbury. Fred Mills assisted Dock (William) and Joe Wright on the project, and the stone was donated by William E. Breese from his private quarry. This highly visible project likely encouraged other commissions in the community.
Most of the Wrights’ attributed buildings are residences. Some come with a strong oral tradition, such as the Tudor Revival style Charles E. Orr House (1926), which has stonework like the contemporary St. Philip’s Church across the street, and two later houses, the rustic Max and Claire Brombacher House (1939-1940) and the Tudor detailed Verne P. and Love Clement House(1941). Others such as the James S. Bromfield House (1926) and the Miriam and Albert Kyle House (1928) may be attributable to members of the Wright family based on their dates and appearance. The Wright brothers and Fred Mills are also credited by tradition with construction of the distinctive Brevard College Fence and Gate (1936-1937), a project of the Works Progress Administration.
Two of the earliest stone residences in Brevard have not generally been cited to the Wrights because they predate the 1919, traditionally claimed as the year when “the three sons of James Robert Wright moved to Brevard in 1919 to ply their trade. “ These are the fine Craftsman style Royal and Louise Morrow House (1915), credited to the Wrights by Morrow family tradition, and the English “manorial” style Godfrey-Barnette House (ca. 1918-1920), which is quite similar to the 1926 Orr House. However, documentation newly available via Newspapers.com indicates that James R. Wright, Sr., the father, and W. B. F. (Dock) Wright, the eldest son, were in fact working in Brevard as early as 1907, and W. B. F. was living there by 1914, and they could well have built the Morrow House or the Godfrey-Barnette House. On August 2, 1907, the Brevard News noted that the father, James R. Wright (Sr.), “one of the best stone workers and builders in Henderson county, was looking over our town this week. Could he see a prospect for work in his line he might be induced to become a citizen of Brevard.” Indeed, on September 20, 1907, the same newspaper reported that stonemason James R. Wright was in Brevard to “lay off and start workmen on the basement for the News editor’s 5-room mansion” because competent workmen in Brevard were “too busy to undertake the job.” On September 27, the newspaper noted that “Dock” Wright had completed the foundation, suggesting that Wright, Sr., had begun the project and assigned his eldest son to complete it. The writer was J. J. (Justus Joseph) Miner, a prominent citizen from Ohio who was the manager of the newspaper and presumably the owner of the house in question.
One likely reason for the J. J. Miner House commission was the fact that Mrs.. Miner was James Wright, Sr.’s maternal aunt. Moreover, in 1914 William Wright married his cousin, Osie Miner, at the Brevard Presbyterian Church; they were to make their home in in Brevard (Brevard News, May 1, 1914). Thereafter, the Brevard newspaper reported frequent visits between the Wrights in Hendersonville and the newlyweds in Brevard, where W. B. F. was practicing his craft, often with the aid of family members.
The Brevard News of September 28, 1917 noted W. B. F. Wright as being in charge of the stonework at a nearby village called Selica, where builders were erecting houses of frame and “cobblestone.” (Cobblestone evidently referred to rounded river rocks.) The Brevard News of June 24, 1921 carried an article entitled “Cobblestone the Rage,” noting that many houses had been built with cobblestone basements, and a few entirely of that material, as well as several walls. The article cited examples of walls in “North Brevard” by W. B. F. Wright “and brother.” At the “Hunt Cottages” Wright had “built a series of cobblestone pillars, . . . which afford ornamentation to both lawn and stre[e]t.” William’s brothers James, Jr., and Joseph moved to Brevard in the 1920s, probably after their father’s death in 1922, and continued to practice their trade for many years. Among them the three brothers spanned five decades of construction in Brevard during which their masonry work distinguished the architectural character of their adopted community.
(James Jr.’s son, Carl Wright, aged 5 in 1940, related family history and traditions to Deborah Thompson during the survey of Transylvania County in the 1990s. He would have been too young to remember his uncle William B. F. or grandfather James Sr. but would have known his uncle Joe as well as his father James Jr. The age differences may explain the tradition that the Wrights were not in Brevard before 1919.)
Further notes on the Wright family:
Public documents provide details about the Wright family as the father and older brother were succeeded by the two younger brothers. The father, James R. Wright, Sr. (1852-1922), a son of Columbus Wright and Nancy Stepp, was listed in the 1880 United States Census as a 23-year-old “rock mason” heading a Hendersonville household that included his wife Sarah Couch, 16, and their son, William B., aged one;; James Sr. and Sarah eventually had at least nine children. The three brothers associated with Brevard’s stonework were William (W. B. F., known as Dock) (1879-1936), James R., Jr. (1894-1959) and Joe (1905-1986).
In 1910, James and Sarah Wright’s household in Hendersonville included sons John, Eugene, Robert (James Robert Jr.), Lea, Bessie and Joe, with the elder two sons stonemasons like their father. The eldest son, William, had his own household in Henderson and was working as a stonemason; living with him were his maternal aunt Louise Couch and his paternal uncle William Wright. William worked in Brevard for a time before marrying Osie Miner and settling down there in 1914. In 1920 the United States census showed William B. F. Wright as a 42-year-old rock mason living on Broad Street in Brevard, head of a household that included his wife, Osie; their daughter Justine; and Osie’s aged father, Justis J. Miner. Mrs. J. J. (Elizabeth Stepp) Miner was evidently James Wright Sr.’s aunt on his mother Nancy Stepp’s side. In 1909 the Brevard News reported that William B. F. Wright of Hendersonville had spent a few days visiting his aunt, Mrs. J. J. Miner, in Brevard, but on another occasion she was cited as his “grand aunt.” In 1910 W. B. F. Wright spent Christmas visiting “Aunt Betsy and Cousin Osie” in Brevard. Osie Miner (1878-1936) was the daughter of J. J. and Elizabeth (Betsy) Miner. Meanwhile, back in Hendersonville in 1920, the younger Wright brothers still lived with their father, James R. Wright, Sr., a widower at 67, whose household included children John, Eugene, James R., Nancy, Duey Lee, Bessie, Joseph F., and a granddaughter, Helen, aged 2. All the males in the household were engaged in stonework, except the youngest two, who were in school, including Joe, aged 14 in 1920. Any of the Wright stonemasons in Hendersonville might have journeyed to Brevard or other sites to assist on family projects. The father, James R. Wright Sr., died in 1922.
During the 1920s, James Jr. and Joseph (Joe) Wright moved to Brevard, where their brother William was well established. In 1930 William had $4,000 in real estate and headed a household that included his wife Osie, daughter Justine, and two “roomers”—Willliam’s aunt, Louise Couch, 73, and his youngest brother, stonemason Joe Wright, 24. James Robert Wright, Jr., married Donna Gillespie of Brevard in 1921 and had moved to Brevard by 1930.
William Benjamin Franklin Wright (Dock) died on December 6, 1936 and was buried in Gillespie Evergreen Cemetery in Transylvania County. The family tradition was carried on by his younger brothers, who stayed in Brevard and accomplished the later projects attributed to the family along with their associate Fred Mills. In 1940, the census listed James Robert Wright (Jr.), as a stonemason and a head of household in Brevard, where he lived with his wife, Donna Mae, and their children. His death certificate of 1959 gave his occupation as a brickmason, likely reflecting a change in demand for brick rather than stone. He too was buried in the Gillespie Evergreen Cemetery. The youngest of the Wright brothers, Joseph Few (Joe) Wright, lived until May 17, 1986. In 1940, he was a plumbing contractor in Brevard, head of a household that included his wife Helen, his niece Justine, and his aged aunt Louise Couch. An undated obituary stated that he had retired from the maintenance department of the Olin Corporation. His grave is in the Glazener Cemetery in Transylvania County.
- Clay Griffith, “Charles E. Orr House,” National Register of Historic Places nomination (2006).
- Laura A. W. Phillips and Deborah Thompson, Transylvania: An Architectural History of a Mountain County (1998).
- Dates:1936-1937Location:Brevard, Transylvania CountyStreet Address:Brevard College, Brevard, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The earliest standing portion of the campus wall of irregular stone was part of a project of the Works Progress Administration.
- Dates:1926Location:Brevard, Transylvania CountyStreet Address:334 W. Main Str., Brevard, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Laura A. W. Phillips, Transylvania: The Architectural History of a Mountain County (1988).Note:The large house with a complex roofline has walls of uncoursed rock-faced granite with beaded mortar joints of light brown concrete. The gray stone is subtly variegated with feldspar, mica, and quartz. There is a cottage of similar stonework. Charles E. Orr, a native of Pennsylvania, was a prominent local citizen by at least 1902 and served as postmaster. The stone building is attributed to William ("Dock") Wright, the eldest of the Wright brothers, and Joseph Few ("Joe") Wright, the youngest. It stands across the street from the Wright brothers' St. Philip's Episcopal Church, which was under construction at the same time, and it displays the same type of stone, which had come from the private quarry of William Breese at Cove Mill. By this period, Fred Mills was working with the Wrights. See Clay Griffith, Charles E. Orr House, National Register nomination, 2006.
- Dates:Ca. 1918Location:Brevard, Transylvania CountyStreet Address:411 S. Broad St., Brevard, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Laura A. W. Phillips, Transylvania: The Architectural History of a Mountain County (1988).Note:The house was built for a local schoolteacher, and tradition says it used stones gathered by her students. Attribution to the Wright Brothers is quite feasible, especially since at least William was living in Brevard at the time it was built. It shares much of the simplified Tudor-Arts and Crafts character of the Orr House.
- Dates:1926Location:Brevard, Transylvania CountyStreet Address:Brevard, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:The large, 1-story stone-veneered house features Colonial Revival detail. It is possible that the stonework was done by the Wright Brothers.
- Dates:1939-1940Location:Brevard, Transylvania CountyStreet Address:571 E. Main St., Brevard, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Laura A. W. Phillips and Deborah Thompson, Transylvania: An Architectural History of a Mountain County (1998).Note:The distinctive rustic residence features stonework different from the Wright Brothers' typical work, with the walls of dark, jagged stones stacked vertically with scarcely any mortar visible. The house features many elements of the Arts and Crafts style including hammered hardware and rustic log elements. Erwin Galloway and C. R. Sharp are cited as the contractors. According to interviews with neighbors, the Brombachers began with a house with well-matched stonework representative of the Wright brothers' usual work, but Mrs. Brombacher insisted on starting over to create a house that would "look like it grew there," with irregular corners and no visible mortar. She cited the Grove Park Inn in Asheville as a model. The house is firmly credited to the Wright Brothers. By the time of its construction ca. 1940, the elder brother William was deceased, but the younger brothers James R. Jr. and Joe were still alive and working with Fred Mills.
- Dates:1928Location:Brevard, Transylvania CountyStreet Address:203 Park Ave., Brevard, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Laura A. W. Phillips, Transylvania: The Architectural History of a Mountain County (1988).Note:The simplified Tudor Revival style stone house has not been ascribed to specific stonemasons, but its character and period are in keeping with the Wright Brothers' work in Brevard. Unsigned plans are dated June 1, 1928. Miriam Silversteen Kyle was the daughter of local industrialist Joseph S. Silversteen.
- Dates:1915Location:Brevard, Transylvania CountyStreet Address:563 E. Main St., Brevard, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Laura A. W. Phillips and Deborah Thompson, Transylvania: An Architectural History of a Mountain County (1998).Note:The earliest of Brevard's major stone houses, the Morrow House is also the most sophisticated in design, being a faithful version of the Craftsman style, stone "English cottages" promoted by Gustav Stickley. Royal H. Morrow was a civil engineer from Ohio, and Louise, also from Ohio, took an interest in the arts. Mr. Morrow was involved in building many bridges and camps using local materials. The couple moved to Brevard to better educate their children and built this stone house, which has a date stone of 1915. Morrow family describes Bob Kilpatrick as the contractor, an Englishman named Norwood as head carpenter, and the Wright brothers as the stonemasons. (As explained in the main text, the Morrow family tradition of the Wright brothers' role has been questioned because of the Wright family tradition of the Wrights' arrival in 1919, but since at least William B. F. Wright was in Brevard from 1914 onward, and could have had help from his father and brothers still living in Hendersonville, the attribution is entirely possible.)
- Dates:1926-1928Location:Brevard, Transylvania CountyStreet Address:317 E. Main St., Brevard, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Note:The large house with a complex roofline has walls of uncoursed rock-faced granite with beaded mortar joints of light brown concrete. The gray stone is subtly variegated with feldspar, mica, and quartz. There is a cottage of similar stonework. Charles E. Orr, a native of Pennsylvania, was a prominent local citizen by at least 1902 and served as postmaster. The stone building is attributed to William ("Dock") Wright, the eldest of the Wright brothers, and Joseph Few ("Joe") Wright, the youngest. It stands across the street from the Wright brothers' St. Philip's Episcopal Church, which was under construction at the same time, and it displays the same type of stone, which had come from the private quarry of William Breese. By this period, Fred Mills was working with the Wrights. See Clay Griffith, Charles E. Orr House, National Register of Historic Places nomination, 2006.
- Dates:1941Location:Brevard, Transylvania CountyStreet Address:349 S. Broad St., Brevard, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Laura A. W. Phillips, Transylvania: The Architectural History of a Mountain County (1988).Note:By the time this small Tudor-Revival "period cottage" was built, only the younger Wright Brothers, James R., Jr., and Joe, were still living. They likely executed the stone veneer with the help of their associate Fred Mills.