Gullett, John David (1873?-1935)
John David Gullett (1873? -1935) was an architect born in Amite City, Louisiana, with ties to Mississippi, who practiced from 1920 to 1935 in Goldsboro, N. C. In those fifteen years, Gullett designed several houses in Goldsboro and New Bern and schools in Wayne County, including the handsome Mount Olive High School of 1924-1925. Especially notable in New Bern is his picturesque New Bern Central Fire Station of 1928.
As related by Penne Smith [Sandbeck] in the Mount Olive High School National Register of Historic Places nomination (1998), details of Gullett’s youth, professional training, and early career are somewhat mysterious. His birthplace and birth date are reported differently in different sources. By 1908 Gullett was an architect in Birmingham, Alabama, and a partner of the prominent architect Daniel Helmich (1854-1917), who had designed the Birmingham City Hall (1901) and the Barker School (1905) before his retirement in 1913. By 1910, John Gullett was married to Marie (Mare) C. Gullett; in that year the United States Census listed Gullett (Gillett), an architect aged 37, and his wife “Mare” boarding with Helmich and his wife, and both John and Mare were identified as natives of Mississippi. By 1912, John became a draftsman for the prolific Birmingham architect H. B. Wheelock, and by 1917 he was practicing on his own. His World War I Draft Registration Card stated that he was born on July 5, 1873, but other sources indicate other dates. His death certificate of 1935 gave his age as 60 and his birthplace as Louisiana, and named Martha C. McMillan as his mother, his father as unknown, and Marie Gallett as his wife. His obituary in the Goldsboro News-Argus of October 19, 1935 stated that he had trained as an architect in Mississippi.
In any case, by 1920 Gullett had moved to Goldsboro, N. C.: on February 19, 1920, he listed himself as a resident of Goldsboro when he obtained his license to practice architecture in North Carolina. The United States Census of 1920 named him as John Gillette, an architect aged 40, a native of North Carolina, and head of a household that included his wife, Marie, 35, also a native of North Carolina, plus three white boarders and a black cook. He was listed as an architect in the Goldsboro city directory of 1920-1921, and he was the only architect listed there in the directory of 1923-1924. The census of 1930 noted architect J. D. (50) and Marie (48) Gillett residing in Goldsboro; he was listed as a native of Missouri this time, as were his parents, while Marie and her parents were listed as natives of Mississippi.
Why Gullett moved to Goldsboro is unknown, but he promptly found work. Several buildings of the 1920s have been credited to Gullett in Goldsboro and New Bern, a few miles away by rail or road, most of them brick structures in Colonial Revival styles. He especially favored the Dutch Colonial style for residences. In 1921, the Goldsboro Daily Argus of July 26 lauded “Mr. Jno. D. Gullett, the popular and efficient architect of our city,” who was supervising the “handsome home of Dr. Ralph Daniels, in New Bern, which he designed.” He had returned from New Bern to Goldsboro to “look after the work on the handsome home of Mr. E. B. Borden here, of which also he is the supervising architect.” His work included other houses in New Bern and Goldsboro. (Neither the Daniels House nor the Borden House has been conclusively identified.)
Gullett’s most prominent known work in New Bern, as discovered in 2018 by John B. Green III of New Bern, is New Bern’s Central Fire Station on Broad Street with its striking façade dominated by an arcaded second-story loggia. In the New Bernian of August 28, 1928, an article entitled “Firehouse Plans” reported that “Preliminary sketches of the planned new fire house have been drawn by John David Gullet, architect of Goldsboro, and have been received by Hubert G. Tolson, chairman of the fire committee of the board of aldermen. Mr. Gullett is now working on specifications for the new structure, to be erected shortly on the Green property on Broad Street, recently purchased by the city. The two-story building front will be of tapestry brick, with an upper balcony and attractive columned arches. The first floor will be in one room for the fire engines. The second floor will be divided into several divisions. Four bedrooms with two beds each and four showers will be on the second floor for the drivers. Reception rooms, 23x38 feet, will be on each side, one for each of the two local fire companies. The building will be convenient, modern and handsome, according to advance plans.”
In Goldsboro, Gullett is best known as the architect of the Mount Olive High School (built for white students), and he may have designed the Dillard High School (built for black students) in the same town. He was one of several notable architects commissioned to design Wayne County’s new schools of the 1920s school consolidation era, which closed the old one- and two-teacher schools and built new and more substantial ones. Other architects of the county’s new schools included James Matthew Kennedy of Raleigh, Benton and Benton of Wilson, and G. Lloyd Preacher of South Carolina and Georgia. The county’s brick schools of this era varied in size and elaboration, but the Mount Olive edifice is among the most impressive and among the few that survive. Gullett gained additional commissions for schools in Wayne County in the late 1920s and the early 1930s as well as for residences in Goldsboro and New Bern.
Some of these may have been under construction when Gullett died of a heart attack on October 19, 1935. He was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in Birmingham next to his mother’s grave. Architect Allen J. Maxwell, Jr., who has been described as Gullett’s protégé, took over his office and completed his unfinished commissions before going on to a prolific career.
- Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina (1988).
- Penne Smith [Sandbeck], “Mount Olive High School,” National Register of Historic Places nomination (1998).
- Dates:1921Location:New Bern, Craven CountyStreet Address:New Bern, NCStatus:UnknownType:ResidentialNote:The Goldsboro Daily Argus of July 26, 1921, reported that Gullett was supervising construction of the residence of Dr. Ralph Daniels in New Bern, "which he designed."
- Dates:1926Location:New Bern, Craven CountyStreet Address:216 Johnson St., New Bern, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina (1988).Note:The house combining classical and Dutch Colonial motifs is one of several New Bern houses attributed to Gullett by family tradition and stylistic features (see Sandbeck, New Bern).
- Contributors:John David Gullett, supervising architectDates:1921Location:Goldsboro, Wayne CountyStreet Address:S. George St., Goldsboro, NCStatus:UnknownType:ResidentialNote:The Goldsboro News-Argus of July 26, 1921, identified Gullett as the "supervising architect" of the "handsome home of Mr. E. B. Borden here." Borden was a prominent Goldsboro businessman. On May 25, the Goldsboro Daily had noted that Mr. and Mrs. Borden were residing at the home of Mrs. M. E. Robinson "while their own home on George Street is being remodeled, which when completed will be one of the handsomest homes in our city." The house remodeled by Gullett for Borden has not yet been identified.
- Dates:1922; 1939Location:Goldsboro, Wayne CountyStreet Address:310 W. Walnut St., Goldsboro, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:One of Goldsboro's major houses of the 1920s, the large, brick residence features a Dutch Colonial gambrel roof covered with Ludowici tiles, complemented by robust classical details. The main house was planned by Gullett, and an addition and a garage by Allen J. Maxwell, who took over Gullett's firm after Gullett's death. Gullett's plans were in the hands of the owner of the house as of 1982. See Tom Butchko, Harry Fitzhugh Lee House National Register of Historic Places nomination (1983).
- Dates:1925Location:New Bern, Craven CountyStreet Address:411 E. Front St., New Bern, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina (1988).Note:The eclectic Colonial Revival-Shingle style residence with a complex roofline is one of several New Bern houses credited to Gullett. See Sandbeck, New Bern. Sandbeck notes that Gullett's plans for this house survived in the hands of the owner, thus providing a benchmark for crediting him with some other similar houses in town.
- Dates:1922-1923Location:New Bern, Craven CountyStreet Address:709 Broad St., New Bern, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina (1988).Note:The symmetrical Colonial Revival-Georgian Revival house of red brick is attributed by family tradition to a Goldsboro architect; John David Gullett is believed to have been the only architect practicing in Goldsboro at that time, and he may well have designed this handsome residence. The house remained in the Taylor family for many years; whether any architectural records survive is an open question.
- Dates:1924-1925Location:Mount Olive, Wayne CountyStreet Address:100 Wooten St., Mount Olive, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The 3-story, classically detailed brick school was designed by Gullett in 1924 and built in 1925. The T-shaped structure with auditorium is representative of the many substantial high schools built during the 1920s era of widespread school consolidation and construction. The 1924 blueprints survived at the time of the preparation of the National Register nomination in 1998. Erected as a high school, the building later served as a junior high and an elementary school. See Penne Smith [Sandbeck], Mount Olive High School National Register of Historic Places nomination (1998).
- Dates:Ca. 1926Location:New Bern, Craven CountyStreet Address:209 Pollock St., New Bern, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina (1988).Note:Similarities between this Dutch Colonial style house and other houses cited to Gullett have suggested him as its architect. Tradition cites both Gullett and Herbert Woodley Simpson, but stylistically the former seems more likely.
- Dates:1928Location:New Bern, Craven CountyStreet Address:420 Broad St., New Bern, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina (1988).Note:As discovered in 2018 by John B. Green III of New Bern, the New Bernian of Thursday, August 28 1928, contained an article entitled "Firehouse Plans" and citing Gullett as architect. The description, including the loggia-like balcony and columned arches, correlates with the building on Broad Street which is now the New Bern Fireman's Museum. Peter Sandbeck describes its architecture as "whimsical late-1920s Mediterranean or Spanish Revival."