Wilson, Charles C. (1864-1933)
C. C. Wilson; Charles Coker Wilson
Hartsville, South Carolina, USA
- Columbia, South Carolina
Styles & Forms:
Beaux-Arts; Colonial Revival; Mission; Spanish Colonial Revival; Tudor Revival
Charles Coker Wilson (November 20, 1864-1933), a prominent and prolific South Carolina architect headquartered in Columbia, designed numerous buildings in North Carolina during the late 1910s and the 1920s, chiefly in a Beaux-Arts classical mode. Although much of his North Carolina work concentrated in Gastonia and other communities convenient to Columbia, he had projects across much of the state, including many public school buildings.
Wilson was born in Hartsville, South Carolina, to Dr. Furman Edwards Wilson and Jane Lide Coker Wilson. He was educated at South Carolina College in Columbia, taking bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering in 1886 and 1888. Between 1886 and 1890 he worked for South Carolina railroad companies, and it may have been railroad work that took him to Roanoke, Virginia, then a fast-growing rail center. Although he had no formal architectural education at this point, by January, 1891, he had established an architectural partnership with fellow South Carolinian Henry Hartwell Huggins in Roanoke. After that partnership ended in 1893, South Carolinian William A. Edwards joined Wilson’s office as a draftsman. In 1895 Wilson went to work for established local architect Walter P. Tinsley in Lynchburg, Virginia, but he soon left Tinsley’s office and returned to South Carolina, moving to Columbia where by 1896 he and Edwards formed an architectural partnership that lasted until 1901 and produced more than fifty buildings. During this period, Wilson briefly studied architecture in the Atelier Duray at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1899-1900.
Wilson’s firm prospered with various associates for nearly forty years, and he became one of the most highly regarded architects in his state. Most of his work displayed Beaux Arts influences, both in the balanced, symmetrical massing of buildings and in his use of neoclassical detailing. He gained acclaim as the architect who completed the South Carolina State House in 1907, which was begun before the Civil War and damaged during the conflict; Wilson, who was selected over Frank Pierce Milburn, was the last of several architects on the project. Another major early work was Columbia’s 15-story Palmetto Building of 1912-1913, a steel-framed skyscraper designed by New York architect Julius Harder, with Wilson and Sompayrac as supervising architects. When completed, it was the tallest building in the state. Wilson’s involvement in the project strengthened his reputation as well as his expertise in steel frame tall building construction.
From his office in Columbia, Wilson’s practice reached across North and South Carolina and into Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia, Alabama, and Florida. As his office grew, Wilson continued to form associations with various architects, some of whom went on to careers on their own. Joseph F. Leitner of Atlanta worked for Wilson in 1901-1905 and later became a prolific architect in Wilmington, North Carolina. Henry Ten Eyck Wendell, who worked with Wilson in 1905-1906, had experience in Denver and New York. In 1907 Edwin Douglas (E. D.) Sompayrac, a South Carolinian who had studied at Cornell and worked in Buffalo, and James B. Urquhart of Virginia became associates in the firm of Wilson, Sompayrac and Urquhart through 1910. Urquhart and another Wilson employee set up their own firm in 1910, but the partnership of Wilson and Sompayrac continued until 1917 or 1918. George Berryman of Virginia, educated in architecture at the George Washington University, joined Wilson in about 1920, became a partner in 1923, and in 1926 established his own firm in Raleigh. In 1923, too, J. Robie Kennedy entered the firm, which operated as Wilson, Berryman, and Kennedy until 1927. At this point, Wilson consolidated his offices in Columbia and worked without partners until 1929. Harold Tatum of Philadelphia joined the firm in 1929, and the partnership continued until Wilson’s death in 1933. It is seldom possible to determine which members of the firm designed specific projects.
It was during his partnership with Sompayrac that Wilson’s firm extended into North Carolina, with one of the first projects in the state being the First National Bank Building (1916-1917), a steel-framed skyscraper in the burgeoning textile city of Gastonia. The North Carolina work continued with the partnership of Wilson, Berryman, and Kennedy, and in the early years after World War II, most of Wilson’s work was located in North Carolina. Several projects were located in communities near Columbia, such as Charlotte and Gastonia, but the firm also gained commissions in other parts of the state, especially for schools. For several years the North Carolina projects were so numerous that Wilson established branch offices—in Gastonia and Wilson in 1919-1925, in Charlotte in 1925, and in Raleigh in 1925-1926. He put the Gastonia office in the charge of his friend, Hugh White, an architect who subsequently established his own prolific and long-lasting firm in Gastonia.
Like other architectural firms in the early 20th century, Wilson’s office designed many school buildings in the Carolinas, meeting the demand spurred by the growing state investment in public education. In Wilson County, North Carolina, where school superintendent Charles L. Coon was developing a model system of consolidated schools, Wilson gained commissions to design at least twelve school buildings between 1921 and 1926 in the town of Wilson and in outlying communities. These included such neo-classically detailed red brick buildings as the large Charles L. Coon High School in Wilson and also some small rural schools in a vivid Mission Revival vocabulary, such as Lamms School. A major collegiate project came in 1923 when Wilson, Berryman, and Kennedy gained the million-dollar commission for the new campus of Meredith College at the western edge of Raleigh. In this project, which lasted for several years, the firm employed a Beaux-Arts-influenced formal layout and red brick Colonial Revival architecture.
Wilson was instrumental in promoting architectural professionalism in South Carolina in accord with the guidelines of the national American Institute of Architects (AIA). Along with North Carolinians and other southerners, in 1892 he was a member of the short-lived Southern Chapter of the AIA, and in 1901 he was a founding member and charter president of the South Carolina Association of Architects. When that association became the South Carolina Chapter of the AIA, he became the charter president of the chapter. The national AIA named Wilson as a member in 1905, and in 1914 he was named a Fellow of the AIA in recognition of his achievements in establishing and promoting standards of practice.
In his home state Wilson was as a leader in the profession. In addition to serving as the last architect on the State House in Columbia in 1903-1907, he was architect of the University of South Carolina in 1907-1916. He also served on the state’s initial Board of Architectural Examiners and as its president from 1917 until his death in 1933, and he helped write the South Carolina School Building Code in 1923 as well as the statewide building codes in 1932. Wilson married Adeline Selby of Columbia, and they had two daughters, Elizabeth and Jean.
Note: Wilson’s commissions were reported regularly in the Manufacturers’ Record, including many in North Carolina. Although a good number of these have been identified, for others no details are known. Several are known to have been built and are no longer standing, including these in Gastonia: National Realty Company Store Buildings (MR 10/11/1917 and 10/18/1917) and Addition (MR 7/24/1919); J. M. Belk and Co. Store Addition (MR 1/24/1918); Arrington Hotel (MR 4/8/1920); and C. B. Armstrong Community Building (MR 5/27/1920). Also lost is Robeson County, Lumberton, Thompson Memorial Hospital (MR 6/25/1925, 7/2/1925, 7/30/1925).
Among the reported projects for which further information is sought are the following:
Cleveland County, Shelby: Jail (MR 12/6/1923, 12/27/1923, and 3/6/1924). Cumberland County, Fayetteville: YMCA Building (MR 1/19/1922). Gaston County, Gastonia: Church (MR 1/11/1895); Farmers Commercial Bank (MR 8/18/1921); Nash County, Rocky Mount: Cottage, East Carolina Training School for Boys (MR 9/4/1924); High School (MR 11/25/1926); Seventh Ward Grammar School (MR 11/25/1926); Negro School (MR 11/25/1926). Northampton County, Rich Square: Grammar School and High School (MR 6/1/1922). Pitt County, Greenville: Negro School (MR 8/16/1923); School (MR 11/13/1924); Addition to High School (MR 2/19/1925). Robeson County, Lumberton: County Home (MR 1/24/1924). Wake County, Raleigh: Children’s Building, North Carolina State Sanitarium (Dorothea Dix Hospital) (MR 2/4/1926), possibly the Harvey Building at 705 Picot Dr. Wilson County: Elm City School (MR 4/6/1922); Rock Ridge School (MR 4/27/1922); Scott’s Church School (MR 7/10/1924); and Wilson: First Methodist Church Sunday School Building (MR 10/18/1923).
- Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
- Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
- Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
- Kim Withers Brengle, The Architectural Heritage of Gaston County, North Carolina (1982).
- Harry Gardner Cutler, History of South Carolina, 4 (1920).
- J. C. Garlington, Men of the Time: Sketches of Living Notables (1902).
- Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981).
- Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
- John E. Wells and Robert E. Dalton, The South Carolina Architects, 1885-1935: A Biographical Dictionary (1992).
- “Charles C. Wilson Dies at Hospital,” Columbia, SC The State, Jan. 27, 1933.
- Variant Name(s):Marietta Street ApartmentsDates:1920Location:Gastonia, Gaston CountyStreet Address:102 W. 2nd Ave. at Marietta St., Gastonia, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:Wilson was cited as architect in the Manufacturers' Record, Apr. 15, 1920 and May 27, 1920 for the Armstrong Hotel and Apartment Building, now generally called the Marietta Street Apartments.
- Dates:1923Location:Wilson, Wilson CountyStreet Address:504 N. Carroll St., Wilson, NCStatus:No longer standingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).Note:The 2-story, red brick high school with Tudor detailing was constructed as Wilson's first high school for black students.
- Variant Name(s):Golden Leaf ApartmentsDates:1921-1922; 1924Location:Wilson, Wilson CountyStreet Address:211 Kenan St. West at Moss St., Wilson, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).Note:Wilson's commission for Wilson's first high school, for white students, was noted in the Manufacturers' Record (Dec. 15, 1921, Jan. 12, 1922, and Aug. 28, 1924). The red brick school with neoclassical detailing is named for Wilson County's school superintendent, an educator of statewide renown, who is credited with making Wilson County's consolidated county school system a model for the state. The red brick building features neoclassical detailing. It is now the Golden Leaf Apartments.
- Dates:1921Location:Benson, Johnston CountyStreet Address:100 Main St., Benson, NCStatus:StandingType:CommercialImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).Note:A landmark in the small railroad town of Benson, the neoclassically detailed bank overlooks the tracks at the center of the community. Wilson's commission for the Farmers Commercial Bank was noted in the Manufacturers' Record, Aug. 18, 1921.
- Dates:1917-1918Location:Gastonia, Gaston CountyStreet Address:258 W. Franklin Ave., Gastonia, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Kim Withers Brengle, The Architectural Heritage of Gaston County, North Carolina (1982).Note:Manufacturers' Record, Apr. 19, 1917 and Apr. 26, 1917. The building is now home to St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
- Dates:1916-1917Location:Gastonia, Gaston CountyStreet Address:168-170 W. Main Ave., Gastonia, NCStatus:StandingType:CommercialImages Puslished In:Kim Withers Brengle, The Architectural Heritage of Gaston County, North Carolina (1982).Note:Manufacturers' Record, March 9, 1916 and and Apr. 13, 1916. The 7-story, classically detailed skyscraper is known locally as the Lawyers Building.
- Dates:1923Location:Gastonia, Gaston CountyStreet Address:Gastonia, NCStatus:StandingType:Health CareNote:The City Hospital Ward cited to Wilson in the Manufacturers' Record, Feb. 8, 1923, is the original section of Gaston Memorial Hospital.
- Dates:1919Location:Gastonia, Gaston CountyStreet Address:209 W. 2nd Ave., Gastonia, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Kim Withers Brengle, The Architectural Heritage of Gaston County, North Carolina (1982).Note:Manufacturers' Record, Sept. 4, 1919. Wilson sent architect Hugh White to Gastonia to supervise construction of the elaborate Renaissance Revival residence, and White soon established his own long-lasting practice in Gastonia and planned many of its key buildings of the early 20th century. The landscape architect was Earle Sumner Draper, who planned many suburban and industrial settings in Piedmont North Carolina.
- Dates:1926Location:Wilson, Wilson CountyStreet Address:Kenan St. at Deans St., Wilson, NCStatus:No longer standingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).Note:Noted as Wilson's commission in the Manufacturers' Record (June 24, 1926), the school was demolished in 1980.
- Dates:1922Location:Wilson CountyStreet Address:N side US 264, 0.3 mi. W of I-95, Lamm, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Kate Ohno, Wilson County's Architectural Heritage (1981).Note:Wilson's commission for the school near Grover Lamm's Store was noted in the Manufacturers' Record (Apr. 13, 1922 and Apr. 20, 1922). It was one of three stuccoed Mission-style schools the firm designed for the county, all located in the Old Fields Township. The others were the schools at Bullock's Crossroads (Manufacturers' Record, Apr. 13, 1922 and Apr. 20, 1922) and Sims (Manufacturers' Record, Apr. 13, 1922 and Apr. 20, 1922), which are not represented in Ohno's Wilson County architectural survey publication and are not known to survive.
- Dates:1924Location:Lucama, Wilson CountyStreet Address:Lucama, NCStatus:UnknownType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Kate Ohno, Wilson County's Architectural Heritage (1981).Note:Wilson's commission for the Lucama School was noted in the Manufacturers' Record (July 10, 1924). Local sources credit it to Wilson, Berryman, and Kennedy.
- Dates:1923Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:Meredith College Campus, Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The Manufacturers' Record (Oct. 9, 1924 and Nov. 6, 1924) and cornerstones at Meredith College cite Wilson's role in the design.
- Dates:1920sLocation:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:Meredith College Campus, Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The Manufacturers' Record (Oct. 9, 1924 and Nov. 6, 1924) and cornerstones at Meredith College cite Wilson's role in the design.
- Dates:1924Location:Lumberton, Robeson CountyStreet Address:312 N. Chestnut St., Lumberton, NCStatus:StandingType:CommercialNote:Wilson's commission for the Planters Bank, a 4-story, classically detailed building in stone and red brick, was noted in the Manufacturers' Record, May 29, 1924.
- Contributors:Charles C. Wilson, attributed architectDates:1907-1908Location:Rockingham, Richmond CountyStreet Address:111 E. Washington St., Rockingham, NCStatus:AlteredType:RecreationalNote:The Opera House in Rockingham cited to Wilson in the Manufacturers' Record (Nov. 28, 1907 and Jan. 30, 1908) is probably the current home of the Richmond Community Theatre, located at 111 E. Washington Street; the building has been altered with a ca. 1970s mansard roof on the front.
- Dates:1924-1925Location:Sanford, Lee CountyStreet Address:507 N. Steele St., Sanford, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:J. Daniel Pezzoni, The History & Architecture of Lee County, North Carolina (1995).Note:The high school, well documented in local sources (see J. Daniel Pezzoni, The History & Architecture of Lee County, North Carolina), is a 2-story, red brick structure with restrained classical detailing and with a full complement of facilities, including a large auditorium with a frieze inspired by that of the Parthenon.
- Dates:1922Location:Siler City, Chatham CountyStreet Address:119 S. 3rd Ave., Siler City, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The Manufacturers' Record (Aug 10, 1922) cited Wilson as architect of the School, Siler City. The old Siler City High School is now Braxton Manor Apartments, a senior living community.
- Dates:1928-1929Location:Tryon, Polk CountyStreet Address:Carolina Dr., Tryon, NCStatus:StandingType:Health CareNote:Locally credited to builder Wright J. Gaines, the imposing stone building in Tudor Revival style is cited to Charles C. Wilson as architect in the Manufacturers' Record, July 12, 1928 and Oct. 4, 1928.