Fox, John A. (1836-1920)
John A. Fox (1836-1920) was a prominent New England architect best known for his designs in the “Stick Style” but also skilled in other styles of the era. His only known work in North Carolina is the Tileston School (1871-1872) in Wilmington, which is part of an important story of New Englanders’ role in the city’s educational life.
According to Wikipedia, Fox was a son of Thomas Bayley Fox, a Unitarian minister in Dorchester, Massachusetts. John served in the Massachusetts 2nd Volunteers Infantry from 1862 to 1865, including service in Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” After the war, he joined a civil engineering firm, then began his own architectural practice in Boston, which continued for more than half a century. Active in the American Institute of Architects, he planned many residences in the Boston area as well as a number of civic buildings.
Fox’s commission to design the Tileston School in Wilmington was part of a larger post-Civil War effort by New Englanders to improve educational opportunities in the South, especially during Reconstruction, and specifically in Wilmington.
The Wilmington Star of July 1, 1871 carried a favorable report on the plans shown to the reporter by “Messrs. Strausz and Rice” (see Cape Fear Building Company) for a new normal school and high school to be headed by Miss Amy Morris Bradley, a schoolteacher from New England. The “exceedingly well executed” plans had been drawn by “John A. Fox, Esq., of Boston.” It had classrooms on the ground floor and an exhibition hall-auditorium on the second floor. It is not clear whether Fox visited Wilmington or simply sent the drawings down for execution; the latter scenario frequently took place. The original 2-story brick building in decorative Italianate style was expanded and altered over the years. (The illustration here shows the elegant school building before the extensive changes of the 20th century.)
Amy Morris Bradley (1823-1904), a native of Maine and the longtime principal of the Tileston School, was an important figure who served as a nurse during the Civil War. After the war, she was recruited by the Soldier’s Memorial Society and the American Unitarian Association for missionary work in Wilmington, where she set out to establish free schools for poor children. Initially her goal was to serve both black and white students, but because the American Missionary Association already had a school for black students, she focused on poor white students. Despite early disapproval from some white Wilmingtonians for “Yankee teachers,” her efforts succeeded. She revitalized an existing school and obtained support from local and especially northern benefactors (see below) for the Hemenway School, which opened in 1868, and the Tileston School, which opened in 1872 and continued for many years. Bradley became a much revered member of the community.
The Tileston School was a major philanthropy of Mrs. Mary Tileston Hemenway (1820-1894) of Boston, a wealthy Unitarian who took an interest in improving education in the South along with numerous other causes and projects. This school was named for her father, wealthy merchant Thomas Tileston. It was natural that a Boston architect would be given the project, and it is likely that Fox’s association through his father with the Unitarian faith was a factor as well.
The Amy Morris Bradley Papers at Duke University Library may contain information about the design and construction of the school. Likewise useful may be the Fox Family Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.
- “John A. Fox,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_A._Fox.
- Maggie MacLean, “Amy Morris Bradley,” Civil War Women: Women of the Civil War and Reconstruction Eras 1849-1877 (2006), https://www.civilwarwomenblog.com/amy-morris-bradley/.
- “A Noble Life: Miss Amy Morris Bradley Died Yesterday Morning, Honored by All,” Wilmington Messenger, January 16, 1904.
- Notable American Women, 1607-1950, Vol. 1 (1971).
- Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).
- Contributors:Dates:1871-1872; 1910 [expanded]; 1937 [expanded]Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:400 Ann St., Wilmington, NCStatus:AlteredType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).Note:The development of the school is somewhat complex and the roles of those involved in its 1871-1872 construction uncertain. Newspaper articles mention both Walker and Keen as builders. The original 2-story section of brick was completed in 1872 and was later expanded. One expansion was the "enlarge high school" project noted for Leitner in the Manufacturers' Record of June 30, 1910. Boney planned the third addition, the Ann Street wings. It was estimated to cost $26,000. The illustration here depicts the Tileston School in essentially its original picturesque form. The porch and most of the decorations have been removed, though the original school still stands at the core of the present complex. A more recent photograph appears in Wrenn, Wilmington.