Shell and Cloyd (fl. 1840s-1850s)
Azor Shell (ca. 1815-1899) and Uriah Cloyd (ca. 1823-ca. 1900) were partners as builders in antebellum Lenoir, the seat of Caldwell County in the foothills of North Carolina. Their partnership followed a typical division of trades, with Shell working as a carpenter and Cloyd as a mason, and their practice encompassed a range of public and private building types. As young builders in a young town, they constructed the first buildings to accommodate the town’s basic institutions. Lenoir was established in 1841 in a newly formed county. Shell, a native of the area, and Cloyd, who had come from Tennessee, were poised to construct the first buildings needed, and county historian Nancy Alexander described Shell as “the contractor who helped erect most of Lenoir’s first buildings.”
One of their first and most important projects was the Caldwell County Courthouse (1843), a brick building that was the centerpiece of the new community. In this project they worked with the well-known Asheville contractor Ephraim Clayton. In the same year, Shell and Cloyd also worked with Clayton to build another vital county seat institution, Tuttle’s Hotel, in brick. Soon they built the other components of a town: a church, a college, and probably more.
In 1845 they probably built the town’s first church, the Lenoir Methodist Church, a gable-fronted brick building featuring a stepped-gable pediment and a domed belfry. Shell served on the building committee and it is likely that he and Cloyd built the church. One of Shell and Cloyd’s most prestigious projects was sponsored by the same denomination: the Davenport College Main Building, for the Methodist school for young women of western North Carolina. In 1853 Shell and Cloyd received the contract for the large building, which was designed by South Carolina architect Jacob Graves, who had also planned the Presbyterians’ Concord Female College in nearby Statesville. The brick edifice stood two stories tall and featured a Corinthian portico. According to a Methodist minister writing a few years later, the building was “executed in a manner that does them credit as men and mechanics for honesty and faithfulness in the eyes of all who have ever examined the work.” Azor Shell was also a trustee of Davenport College. After a fire in 1877 the brick building was rebuilt, remodeled, and enlarged.
The 1850 census listed Shell and Cloyd and their households as immediate neighbors in Caldwell County, and each family’s record showed its mobility and connections with Tennessee. In that year, Azor Shell, 33, a native of Burke County, was a carpenter with property valued at $6,000, head of a household that included Amanda, 31, of Iredell County; William, 10, born in Tennessee; John, born in Virginia; and Emma and Marshall, born in Caldwell County. Also in his household were Andrew Banker, 51, a carpenter born in Tennessee, and Margaret Shell, aged 75 and a native of Ireland, probably Azor’s mother. Euriah (Uriah) Cloyd, a 27-year-old brickmason born in Tennessee, headed a household including his wife Rosanna, born in Lincoln County, North Carolina, and Wade, aged one, born in Caldwell County.
Little else is known of Shell and Cloyd’s work, though they lived in Caldwell County for many more years. In the 1860 census, Shell was listed as a carpenter, aged 44, with his children, in Lenoir, and he appeared in the manufacturing schedule as a carpenter with a capital of $1,500 using 5 horses, 4 men, and a steam powered engine to process 20,000 feet of lumber per year. He had built a dwelling house worth $1,800 and other work valued at $1,300. According to the 1870 manufacturing schedule, he was still operating a carpentry shop using water power and a steam engine and was doing “house joining” valued at $1,500. He probably died before 1886.
In 1860, brickmason Cloyd was also still living in Lenoir, along with other artisans and merchants from Tennessee, who evidently found a niche in the growing community. Why these Tennessee building artisans came to Lenoir is not yet known. Cloyd continued to work at his trade and died between 1900 and 1906. Although the known antebellum buildings Cloyd and Shell built for their community have been lost, nevertheless the two men played an important role in the initial development of the county seat and its institutions. Some of the fine antebellum houses of the area and many of the later buildings may be their work.
- Nancy Alexander, Here Will I Dwell: the Story of Caldwell County (1956).
- L. S. Burkhead, Centennial of Methodism in North Carolina (1876).
- Dates:1855-1858Location:Lenoir, Caldwell CountyStreet Address:Davenport College Campus, Lenoir, NCStatus:No longer standingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Nancy Alexander, Here Will I Dwell: the Story of Caldwell County (1956).
- Dates:1845Location:Lenoir, Caldwell CountyStreet Address:Lenoir, NCStatus:No longer standingType:Religious