Benton, Frank W. (1883-1960)
Frank Whitaker Benton
Wilson, North Carolina, USA
- Wilson, North Carolina
Styles & Forms:
Art Deco; Colonial Revival; Mission; Modernist
Frank W. (Whitaker) Benton (1883-1960) was an architect headquartered in Wilson, North Carolina, who along with his brother Charles C. Benton, Sr formed the prolific firm of Benton and Benton. During their partnership from 1915 to 1935, the Bentons designed buildings of nearly every type—residences, banks, churches, and civic buildings—and encompassed much of eastern North Carolina and reached westward into the foothills. Although the firm specialized in neoclassical and Colonial Revival buildings, Frank favored streamlined and Art Deco modes, and after he began his own practice in 1935, many of his buildings exemplified these trends.
Frank W. Benton was born in Wilson about 1883, one of at least seven children of Henry Benton, a mechanic (perhaps meaning a builder in the parlance of the day), and Margaret Whitaker Benton. His early life and work have not been documented, nor is it known how either he or his younger brother Charles gained training or experience in architecture. By 1910 Frank and Charles, both identified as architects, were living in Wilson with their widowed mother. Although Charles married in 1911, Frank remained single through 1920 but by 1930 had married his wife Helen. (Frank’s middle name has sometimes been given as Warthall, but both his World War I draft registration form and his death certificate show it as Whitaker.)
Compared to the numerous works cited to Charles in the early years of the century, little is known of Frank’s architectural activities before 1915. In that year, Charles dissolved his partnership with Solon B. Moore and entered into a partnership with Frank as Benton and Benton. Whereas much of Charles’s earlier work had been relatively local, the brothers developed a broad regional practice. Because no records of the firm’s operation are known to survive, the division of work between the two brothers is not known.
The firm of Benton and Benton, which continued from 1915 to 1935, proved highly prolific. Taking advantage of the growing demand for substantial buildings in many small and middle-sized communities, the firm gained commissions that extended from Elizabeth City in the northeastern part of the state to as far west as North Wilkesboro and Morganton. Seldom taking projects in larger cities, the firm found a profitable niche in county seats and market towns. Their designs and their services suited a wide range of clients from homeowners to civic officials. for whom they planned handsome and relatively conservative versions of prevailing architectural forms and styles. (An exception came in the early 1920s: according to research by John E. Wells, by 1921 Benton and Benton had an office in Richmond, Virginia, which became Benton and Bengston [for associate Luther Bengston] in 1922 and closed by 1925.)
Benton and Benton developed a strong reputation in various classical and Colonial Revival modes popular in the region. For the modestly budgeted courthouses in Montgomery and Washington counties and elsewhere they employed the symmetrical forms and prominent porticoes that were the norm in the period. The firm also designed a number of reassuringly monumental neoclassical banks that asserted a new presence in many towns: typically located on prominent downtown corners, these banks presented a columned, vault-like façade or entrance to the main street and had classical pilasters along the side street. Benton and Benton and later Benton and Son(s) planned residences in a range of popular styles, including columned “Southern Colonial” and other Colonial Revival modes, as well as substantial bungalows with bold Craftsman detailing, such as the Lloyd and Lillian Turnage House in Ayden; Benton and Benton’s blueprints for the latter, held at the Special Collections Research Center at North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina, are among the few drawings by the Benton firms known to survive. Despite the onset of Great Depression, the partnership continued until 1935, when the brothers went their own ways.
While Charles established a partnership with his sons Charles and Henry, Frank W. Benton continued to practice on his own, chiefly in Wilson. Although he continued to produce classical and colonial styles, his modernist designs are especially notable for their time and place. His WPA-assisted projects include the Colonial Revival style Wilson County Public Library and the more modernist Wilson Municipal Building (1938). He also designed the locally exceptional modernist Cornelius Sarvis Bass House in the 1940s. Frank retired from the profession several years before his death on December 15, 1960. No job list for Benton’s practice is known to exist, and scarcely any drawings or other records survive. Further information is sought.
- 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).
- M. Ruth Little, Coastal Plain and Fancy: The Historic Architecture of Lenoir County and Kinston, North Carolina (1998).
- Manufacturers’ Record, various issues.
- Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981).
- Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).
- Scott Power, The Historical Architecture of Pitt County, North Carolina (1991).
- Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- John E. Wells and Robert E. Dalton, The Virginia Architects, 1835-1955: A Biographical Dictionary (1997).
- Dates:Ca. 1919Location:Greenville, Pitt CountyStreet Address:707 W. 4th St., Greenville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Michael Cotter, Kate Ohno, and Mary Hollis Barnes, The Architectural Heritage of Greenville, North Carolina (1989).
- Dates:1921Location:Farmville, Pitt CountyStreet Address:129 S. Main St., Farmville, NCStatus:StandingType:CommercialImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
Scott Power, The Historical Architecture of Pitt County, North Carolina (1991).Note:This is one of the firm's several neoclassical banks designed to take advantage of their prominent corner locations, here with a full-height Doric portico in antis and pilasters along the side.
- Dates:Ca. 1920Location:Washington, Beaufort CountyStreet Address:192 W. Main St., Washington, NCStatus:StandingType:CommercialNote:Successor to the first, antebellum Bank of Washington, which still stands a short distance away, the four-story brick and stone bank features large Doric columns in antis.
- Dates:1921Location:Washington, Beaufort CountyStreet Address:1040 N. Market St., Washington, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:The large residence in tan brick shows the firm's favored Colonial Revival style.
- Dates:1925-1926Location:Elizabeth City, Pasquotank CountyStreet Address:200 S. McMorrine St., Elizabeth City, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
Thomas R. Butchko, On the Shores of the Pasquotank: The Architectural Heritage of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, North Carolina (1989).Note:The Tudor Revival style building harmonizes with the antebellum Gothic Revival church by J. Crawford Neilson.
- Dates:1940sLocation:Wilson, Wilson CountyStreet Address:927 Raleigh Rd., Wilson, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:A striking and locally unusual example of the moderne style, with streamlined forms and a flat roof in white-painted stucco.
- Dates:1924-1925Location:Enfield, Halifax CountyStreet Address:S.E. Railroad St. at Market St., Enfield, NCStatus:StandingType:FraternalImages Puslished In:Henry V. Taves, The Historic Architecture of Halifax County, North Carolina (2010).Note:The 3 1/2-story building in blond brick overlooks the railroad and dominates the downtown streetscape.
- Dates:1924Location:Kinston, Lenoir CountyStreet Address:200 N. Queen St., Kinston, NCStatus:StandingType:CommercialImages Puslished In:M. Ruth Little, Coastal Plain and Fancy: The Historic Architecture of Lenoir County and Kinston, North Carolina (1998).Note:The lower portion of the bank displays an Ionic-columned entrance in antis typical of the firm's banks of the period, but the building's 5-story height reads as a small skyscraper, unusual in eastern North Carolina's small towns and indicative of Kinston's stature as a market town. In its day it was the tallest structure in town. Local accounts indicate that the building had the first registered elevator in the state, designated Elevator No. 1 by the State of North Carolina. The postcard view of Queen St. shows the bank as the tallest building on the left side of the street.
- Dates:1924Location:Rocky Mount, Nash CountyStreet Address:404 S. Church St., Rocky Mount, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicNote:A brick building with stone-framed fire engine doors and a tile roof.
- Dates:1941Location:Greenville, Pitt CountyStreet Address:310 W. 5th St., Greenville, NCStatus:StandingType:TransportationNote:The moderne style bus station is one of the few surviving examples of this once popular type remaining in North Carolina. Plans and specifications (location unknown) are dated 1941.
- Dates:1939Location:Greenville, Pitt CountyStreet Address:SW corner of 5th St. and Washington St, Greenville, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Michael Cotter, Kate Ohno, and Mary Hollis Barnes, The Architectural Heritage of Greenville, North Carolina (1989).Note:One of Frank Benton's most imposing designs of the late 1930s, the stone-faced building combines symmetrical massing with Art Deco detail.
- Dates:1923Location:Halifax, Halifax CountyStreet Address:NC 903, Halifax vicinity, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Henry V. Taves, The Historic Architecture of Halifax County, North Carolina (2010).Note:The firm employed a symmetrical design in Colonial Revival style for the building, one of several such facilities for care of the poor and the sick in the early 20th century.
- Dates:1924Location:Hickory, Catawba CountyStreet Address:Hickory, NCStatus:UnknownType:CommercialNote:The Manufacturers' Record in 1924 noted that Benton and Benton were architects for a drugstore in Hickory, which was to feature ornamental terra cotta.
- Dates:1924Location:Kinston, Lenoir CountyStreet Address:E. Caswell St. at Davis St., Kinston, NCStatus:No longer standingType:TransportationNote:The postcard view of the station features a rare example of a drawing signed by Benton and Benton.
- Dates:1922Location:Lenoir, Caldwell CountyStreet Address:100 Willow St., Lenoir, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:Typical of the consolidated high schools of its era, the large brick building, 220 feet long, features classical detailing.
- Dates:1922Location:Ayden, Pitt CountyStreet Address:811 W. 3rd St., Ayden, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
Scott Power, The Historical Architecture of Pitt County, North Carolina (1991).Note:The especially well-detailed bungalow has a deep porch that extends as a porte cochere. Drawings (blueprints) and specifications for the house are in the Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Dates:1918Location:Morehead City, Carteret CountyStreet Address:9th St. and Shackleford St., Morehead City, NCStatus:No longer standingType:Health CareNote:The Manufacturers' Record of April 18, 1918, reported that the Morehead City Hospital had plans by Benton and Benton, Wilson for a general hospital building at 9th St. and Shackleford St.; 80 x 80 ft., brick; slate roof; wood floors; cost $15,000; steam heat; $3000; electric lights $1000; electric elevator $1200 bids to be opened April 23 or 24; construction to begin May 1. The hospital was founded by Dr. Ben Royal, who had begun a smaller facility in 1911. The red brick hospital overlooked the water.
- Dates:1917-1918Location:Greenville, Pitt CountyStreet Address:200 E. 4th St., Greenville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Michael Cotter, Kate Ohno, and Mary Hollis Barnes, The Architectural Heritage of Greenville, North Carolina (1989).Note:Among the grandest residences in Greenville, the Colonial Revival style brick house features a large portico with columns in the Tower of the Winds order.
- Contributors:Frank W. Benton, architect; Jones Brothers, buildersDates:1938Location:Wilson, Wilson CountyStreet Address:112 N. Goldsboro St., Wilson, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Kate Ohno and Robert C. Bainbridge, Wilson, North Carolina, Historic Buildings Inventory (1980).Note:WPA funding assisted construction of the streamlined building with Art Deco detail. Frank W. Benton has been identified as architect.