Although Greensboro was a small southern village in the mid-nineteenth century, it enjoyed strong associations with northern cities through its architecture. Alongside the work of Alexander Jackson Davis, Greensboro features residences by unknown but creative designers within its architectural history. One such example is the home of Dr. David Weir, a native of Ireland who arrived in Greensboro around May 1838. His profile in the community grew as he served many roles, including that of a physician, a school principal, a druggist-merchant, an insurance company director, and a consignee for a railroad. Though his house stands among a small group of distinctive and important houses, its architect has remained unknown until an intruiging connection emerged.
The significance of the Weir house was recognized as early as 1921 when the property was acquired by the Greensboro Women’s Club for use as their headquarters. In 1984 the organization had the site listed to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1989 it was recognized as a Guilford County Landmark property. Curiously, the house – one of roughly ten surviving antebellum structures in Greensboro – features ornamental details that is unique among its cohorts in and around city. Greensboro is no stranger to avant-garde Antebellum period architecture – New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis’s Blandwood was completed in 1846 and stands as the earliest extant example of Italianate architecture in the country. Davis recorded in his daybook that he provided Dr. Weir with house plans during a visit to Greensboro during that year. The house design was Gothic in appearance, with a high gabled roofline with stepped parapets and wall dormers, but the plan was likely never executed.
The Weir house does not resemble any of Davis’ known works, and displays several decorative elements that are rare for the Carolina piedmont at the time, notably the sawn ornament suggestive of Swiss architecture. Though the house has been attributed to architect Davis, these suggestions are qualified on the basis that the style is not typical of his portfolio. Davis’s work followed Neoclassical, Italianate and Gothic themes and is not known to have employed features such as sawn ornament
Architectural historians have pondered the designer of the Weir House for decades. Greensboro became a boomtown with the arrival of the North Carolina Rail Road in 1856. Residents sought to use architecture to signify that the town was stylish and successful. Leading architects in the state sought to profit from the boom, and the Greensboro Patriot ran ads from notables such as William Percival of Raleigh and W. Raeder of Salisbury. North Carolina architectural historian Catherine Bisher discovered a reference from architect W. S. Andrews that provided an alternative to the Davis supposition for the design of the Weir House. Between July 30, 1858 and January 28, 1859, Andrews ran at least 19 advertisements for his services in the Greensboro Patriot newspaper. The ad stated:
“W. S. Andrews, Architect, Columbus, Ohio, is prepared to furnish Plans and Drawings for Public Buildings, Villas, Cottages, &c, at the shortest notice, and will guarantee to give perfect satisfaction to all those who may favor him with an order. Reference: – D. P. Weir, Charles E. Shober, Robert P. Dick, Cyrus P. Mendenhall, of Greensboro’, and C. W. Covington, of Rockingham, North Carolina.”
If W. S. Andrews was publishing Weir’s name as a reference, he presumably had a substantial work experience with Weir, and the others referenced. Andrews’ reputation is unknown to North Carolina architectural historians, but further research reveals more on the designer behind Greensboro’s mysterious Weir House.
As in North Carolina, the architect William Smith Andrews is not well-known in Columbus, Ohio. However, the name is well documented in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Andrews was a native of Philadelphia. born on December 1, 1822. He was the son of Joshua Andrews of Philadelphia and Sarah Davis Andrews. Joshua and his sons were trained in the construction trade, and are remembered for erecting many of the brick tenements built in the city during the first half of the 19th century.
According to Roger W. Moss of the the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, William S. Andrews appears as an architect in Philadelphia city directories as early as 1855 and through 1860. References in the Philadelphia Public Ledger promote his employment as an architect. On Oct 24, 1856, an advertisement on page 4 under the heading “Architecture” states “W. S. Andrews, Architect, No. 118½ Walnut Street, below Fifth Street, is prepared to instruct a few young Men in Architectural Draughting, Coloring and Perspective.” Another promotional in the same Ledger on October 23rd and 27th 1856, state “Wm. S. Andrews, Architect…is prepared to execute Designs and Drawings, and superintend Buildings, &c, Perspective Drawings and Coloring. Also, Drawings for Patents, &c.”
How did a Philadelphia architect come to associate with Columbus, Ohio?
On September 21st, 1857, William was married to Eleanor (Ellie M. Abel) by Rev. Dr. Mayer. A few months later, the couple relocated to Columbus, Ohio, when William took a position as a draftsman under Ohio-born architect Nathan B. Kelley. Kelley was one of several architects associated with designs and revisions to the Ohio Statehouse. Kelley is remembered for exuberant designs that were intended to create a grand and impressive interior, but attracted attention to the project for its lavish and expensive nature.
Andrews found himself central to the controversy related to statehouse construction expenses on April 7, 1858, when an official inquiry was made to the number of architects employed on the project. To the House of Representatives, it was resolved:
“That the State House Commissioners be required to inform this House, immediately, how many Architects are employed in the State House, and if more than one, their names, and the business performed by each.”
In response to the inquiry, Acting Building Commissioner William Platt assured “In reply, state, that there is one Architect and one Draughtsman “employed in the State House”. The name of the Architect is Nathan B. Kelley, and of the Draughtsman William S. Andrews. It is the duty of the Architect to superintend all work and inspect all materials for the building; and of the Draughtsman to make all drawings as directed by the Architect.”
Due to perceived overspending, architect Kelley lost his job on April 15th. However, Andrews remained under the employment of the state, even serving as primary architect during an interim period until Isaiah Rogers was selected as a permanent replacement on July 27th. Ohio state audits from the period record:
W. S. Andrews, architect, from April 15th to July 27th 1858 – $400.01 Under N. B. Kelley to April 15th, under Isaiah Rogers since July 27th.
During the entire period, W. S. Andrews remained employed as the draftsman for the project.
In his personal life, Andrews and his wife Ellie were expecting their first child in the summer of 1858. It was at this time he began to run advertisements for his services in the Greensboro newspaper.
By September, their daughter, Elizabeth, was born, but there were health complications for both mother and child. The Philadelphia Public Ledger of Dec 13, 1858 announced Ellie’s death, possibly from issues related to birth:
“At Columbus Ohio on the 8th inst.; ELEANOR ABEL, wife of WM S ANDREWS, in the 24th year of her age. Her funeral will take place this (Monday) morning, at 10 o’clock, from the residence of Joseph Esherick Esq., No. 517 North Fourth Street above Buttonwood.”
In January 1859, the advertisements in the Greensboro Patriot ended. Baby Lizzie died the next June at nine months of age.
A quirk of fate served as a confirmation that W. S. Andrews lived in both Philadelphia and Columbus. The Philadelphia Public Ledger on January 1, 1859 reported “Yesterday, one of the watches obtained from John Frank, the alleged pick-pocket, was identified as the property of Wm. S. Andrews, of Columbus, Ohio, who had come here to take back the body if his wife.”
Andrews gained a foothold in North Carolina where he apparently designing a handful of significant residences. His references naming D. P. Weir, Charles E. Shober, Robert P. Dick, Cyrus P. Mendenhall, and C. W. Covington might provide further insights to his body of work. Who were the figures behind these references?
David Park Weir, MD (ca. 1815-1865) was born in Ireland. He arrived in Greensboro around May 1838, with his wife Hannah Latham Humeston Weir, and the couple had one child survive childhood. In 1839 Dr. Weir was named as principal of the Edgeworth School, established by Governor Morehead and administered by Ms. M. A. Hoye. By 1840 he established the Greensborough Drug Store and soon thereafter partnered with merchant Jesse Lindsay as a co-owner of the Weir & Lindsay general and drug store.
Tragedy visited the Weir household in May 1842 when Hannah died. By that time, Weir was well-established in Greensboro’s social circles through the medical field as well as educational administration. On 5 February 1844, he met with Blandwood’s architect Alexander Jackson Davis, who recorded in his personal daybook, “Dr. Weir, for whom I made a plan of dwelling 25.00.” The render for the Davis plan depicts a Gothic-style house with little resemblance to the current residence. No evidence has been found to suggest this plan was executed.
In 1845, widower Weir married Susan Dick Humphreys, the 18-year-old widow of Absalom T. Humphreys, the son of the wealthiest man in Guilford County. The couple closed on several acquisitions of real estate between 1846 and 1848, the last including two lots purchased from the Greensboro Female College property located between Edgeworth and Spring streets. This two-acre parcel was likely the nucleus for his homeplace, however, the date of construction of a residence is undocumented.
At the time of the 1850 census, Dr. Weir was identified as a doctor with property worth $4,700 and the head of a household composed of his wife, and sons Samuel and John. His financial positions included secretary and treasurer of the Greensborough Mutual Life Insurance & Trust Company. Founded in 1851, the company insured against fire and was a supplier of life insurance for subscribers or their enslaved workers. Beginning in 1856 he was a consignee for to the NC Railroad, perhaps indicating a degree of financial advancement. A reference to Weir in the Greensboro Times Special on Jan. 1. 1857 indicated that Weir had a change of address prior to this time the notice announced “Dr. W. C. Freeman having returned to Greensboro, will resume his practice. He may be found at his office during the day, except at meal hours, and then and at night, at the residence formerly Dr. Weir’s, opposite Edeworth Seminary.” This notice might indicate the completion of Weir’s new house designed by Andrews.
The Weir house features architectural elements that are unique to Greensboro and Guilford County. Its sawn-work facia and paired chamfered porch supports provide a lightness to the double gallery façade that is evocative of a Swiss chalet. Romantic Period Swiss designs often featured a prominent forward gable roofline, a full-width double gallery porch, a low-pitched roof, and wide eaves – all of which are features on the Weir House. Swiss architecture held limited popularity in the mid-twentieth century. Charles Dickens received a miniature Swiss Chalet as a gift that he erected in 1864 in his garden at Gad’s Hill (image, right). The structure features a low-pitched roofline and sawn facia details like the Weir House.
The Weir House remains standing at 223 N Edgeworth Street in downtown Greensboro. It has served as the Greensboro Woman’s Club since 1921. (Private)
Charles Eugene Shober (1833-1892) was a native of Salem, NC. There he was a manufacturer (operating the Salem Paper Mill), a merchant, and a lawyer. Shober married Mary Gilmer, eldest daughter of John Gilmer, a well-known attorney in Greensboro. Perhaps due to these family ties, he and his wife relocated to Greensboro around 1855, where he was elected a town commissioner in 1857. His circle of social ties included Robert P. Dick and Cyrus P. Mendenhall. Mary Gilmer died in 1857 and in 1860 the Shober family was living with John Gilmer. An image of any Gilmer residence is not yet known.
Robert Paine Dick (1823-1898), native of Greensboro and brother of Susan Dick Humphreys Weir. Dick was an attorney and former Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and the United States District Court. Judge Dick was born in Greensboro, and married Mary Eloise Adams of Pittsylvania County, Virginia in 1848. Judge Dick is remembered for his strong endorsement of candidate Stephen Douglas – alternative to the majority in Greensboro at the time – at the 1860 Democratic conventions at Charleston and Baltimore. Dick erected a grand house facing Church Street in the northern parts of Greensboro and named it “Dunleath”. (photo, right) The landscaped grounds were disrupted in 1864 with the construction of a railroad bed connecting Greensboro with Danville Virginia.
Dunleath was an architectural composition unlike others in Greensboro. It was described in a 1936 Greensboro Record article as “…built in 1857. It is said an Italian landscape gardener and architect from one of the northern states designed the house and laid out the grounds.” Perhaps the reference to Italy is in some way recollection of the resemblance the facade had to a Philadelphia architect John Notman’s Design IX for “A Cottage in the Italian, or Tuscan Style” published in Cottage Residences in 1842. As a resident of Philadelphia, Andrews would have likely had knowledge of Notman’s design, and could have used it as an inspiration for his Dunleath facade. A article in the Greensboro Daily News in 1957 references Robert Dick Douglas, grandson of Judge Dick, who stated the house was financed by the Judge’s father-in-law George Adams of Virginia. “He went to Philadelphia and employed an architect, whom he instructed to build the finest and most modern house on the market. ” The primary façade (west) of Dunleath included a tripartite composition of forward facing gables united by a cast iron verandah, and embellished with bay windows, rounded arches, segmental arches, and a bracketed cornice (image, right). Interior spaces were grand, including a central hall flanked by a Drawing Room and Living Room – the latter entered through a columned entry. Considering the unique design of the house, and its Philadelphia reference, it is a candidate for being a commission of Andrews, perhaps inspired Notman.
Dunleath stood at 677 Chestnut Street, but faced Church Street to the west. It was documented in 1967-68, and destroyed in 1969. Portions of the hosue survive at the Greensboro History Museum and at Blandwood Mansion.
Cyrus Pegg Mendenhall (1817-1884) Born a Quaker in Mendenhall Homeplace on West Main Street in Jamestown NC. Cyrus was a lawyer, Director of Greensborough Mutual Life Insurance & Trust Company, and served as Secretary/Treasurer or Treasurer of the North Carolina Rail Road (1851-1859). He headed the building committee to construct a new Guilford County Courthouse in 1858. Later in life, he served as mayor of Greensboro for three terms between 1874 and 1876.
Mendenhall lived in a home known as “The Elms” on South Elm Street in Greensboro. The two-story frame house is thought to have been constructed in 1856. Centered upon the façade was the main entry, sheltered by a Greek portico. The portico and the doorcase were based on Plates 4 and 28 of the publication entitled The Architect, or Practical House Carpenter by Asher Benjamin. Published as early as 1830, the guide book was considered a guide for builders across the nation who sought advice in detailing popular Greek and Roman moldings compositions. The book appears to have strongly influenced decisions on proportion, form, and geometry of the Doric facade. His associations might have drawn him to prefer a simpler classical façade as opposed to the more elaborate Swiss and Italian influences seen on the Weir and Dick houses. The influence of Asher Benjamin is not unique in the Carolina Piedmont, a handful of homes feature details like patterns seen in the book. Whether Andrews had a hand in the classical design is unknown.
The Elms was located in the 300 block of South Elm Street near its southwestern corner with Washington Street. It was moved to Greene Street in 1894, and architectural features reused in new construction in 1915.
C. W. Covington (1837- ) Little has been discovered about Covington. Records in Rockingham County just to the north of Greensboro indicate Charles William Covington (1837-1912) who might be a candidate (a very young candidate!) for the reference. The village of Rockingham, located 80 miles south of Greensboro, might also hold clues.
By 1860, Andrews appears to have returned to Philadelphia, where an announcement in the November 24, 1860 Philadelphia Inquirer referenced the Philadelphia Skating Club’ and Humane Society’s club house in Fairmount Park. The structure was described “of Italian Architecture, by W. S. Andrews,”
In 1861, Andrews was one of 19 signers of the application for the charter for the Pennsylvania Institute of Architects and served as an associate member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1870 – the same year he was recommended for the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA.
In his personal life, Andrews remained single until his 1867 marriage to Caroline Ball. They had three children together, including William Ball Andrews, born in 1868 and twins: Charles H, and Elizabeth E. born in the next year.
Considering the diversity of design work that could exist in Greensboro, Andrews has limited surviving work in his hometown. He is credited with the design of the William M. Runk House located in the Philadelphia Main Line community of St. David’s. Named “Llandeilo”, the residence is thought to have been constructed in 1880. The architectural style of the house is best described as “Victorian Stick” featuring a steep-pitched roof, a prominent gable with an arched truss and Jerkin-head gable, applied stickwork of half-timbering, and a four-story tower. Llandeilo’s asymetrical facade contrasts with the candidates for his early work in Greensboro that all feature symmetrical facades…as was more popular in the 1850s. Although the house shares little in common with Greensboro homes in terms of specific detail and architectural style, it could illuminate an appreciation Andrews had of romantic Victorian themes, whether Swiss, Italian, Greek, or Victorian Stick.