Historic Structures

Architect Richard Upjohn Kenworthy Hall - Carlisle-Martin House, Marion Alabama

The architect for Kenworthy Hall was Richard Upjohn (1802-1878), of R. Upjohn & Company, of New York City, New York. Upjohn's office was one of the earliest training grounds for young architects, with many young men, including his son, Richard M. Upjohn, contributing to the plans and alterations of commissions as part of their apprenticeships. Until the late 1850s, however, Richard Upjohn played an integral role in the initial phase of the designs and even in many of the subsequent changes which clients requested. Edward Kenworthy Carlisle addressed four of his earliest letters to the firm directly to Richard Upjohn, opening with the salutation, "Dear Sir." The more encompassing greeting, "Dear Gentlemen," appeared once most of the design had been agreed upon, including the exterior, room configurations, and building materials. Exactly who corresponded with Carlisle most from the firm is unclear because only Carlisle's letters are available. Leonidas N. Walthall, Carlisle's brother-in-law, seemed to have been in close contact with Charles Babcock, Upjohn's son-inlaw, who worked with the firm as a partner from 1850 until 1858, when he left to develop his own practice. "I can not but express my regret that your Mr. Babcock has concluded to retire from the firm," wrote Walthall. "In our correspondence, I feel as though an intimacy, certainly an attachment on my part, has grown up between us." Despite this attachment, Walthall, as did many others who worked with the apprentices and partners, wanted Richard Upjohn's final approval of the overall house, especially after modifications. "I trust the younger members of the firm will excuse me asking his individual opinion in relation to [the house]," Walthall apologized. Carlisle, it seemed, sought only to satisfy his own needs regarding his house and did not make it known if he sought another opinion, professional or otherwise. But when he had conflicts over design changes or with what he perceived as the inefficiency or carelessness of the firm, he laid responsibility solely at Richard Upjohn's feet. Upjohn never journeyed to the building site to supervise the work and it seems that no one from the office traveled to Alabama either. Rather, the two parties relied upon the dependability of mail services, with letters and drawings making the route one way in as few as four days.

Richard Upjohn was born in Shaftesbury, England, where he trained as a cabinetmaker. Sensing greater economic opportunities in the United States, he sailed to New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1829. After four years he moved to Boston to develop an independent practice where he first expressed his trademark ideas of form taking precedence over ornament and the role of simplicity and workmanship in architecture. Due to the success of his early work, in 1839 Upjohn was called to New York City to advise the vestry of Trinity Church about repairs to the building. When he declared the existing structure unsound he was hired, after submitting plans, to design and supervise construction of a new church on the site. He moved his office to New York City to oversee what was for several years to become a nearly full-time endeavor. Trinity Church was to establish Upjohn in the world of architecture, particularly ecclesiastical design. As an ardent Episcopalian and follower of Pugin who saw architecture as a high calling, he sought an architectural form for the church that would speak to its high moral objectives, a message he found expressed in the Gothic form.

Kenworthy Hall - Carlisle-Martin House, Marion Alabama Trinity Church, New York 1900
Trinity Church, New York 1900

With the completion of Trinity Church in 1846, Upjohn had earned the reputation as the major designer for Protestant Episcopalian church architecture and his popularity brought him inquiries and commissions from the richest to the poorest parishes of many denominations. The demand for designs from small, rural parishes, which could not afford his services, led him to publish Rural Architecture, a book of plans and elevations which led to a near standardization of rural church architecture and made Upjohn one of the most influential architects of his day, even though many of the churches based on his designs go undocumented today. In 1857 he formed The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and served as its president until 1876, when failing health forced him to give up the position. Foremost in his agenda as president were that architects be appropriately trained for their profession, that they be compensated and recognized for their work, and that they establish an official means of working with clients and of collegiality amongst themselves."

Kenworthy Hall - Carlisle-Martin House, Marion Alabama Interior, Trinity Church, New York 1907
Interior, Trinity Church, New York 1907

Richard Upjohn's dedication to purity of form and massiveness in construction transferred to his work in domestic architecture. But rather than turn to the Gothic, which was his inspiration in ecclesiastical architecture, Upjohn sought inspiration from the Italian Renaissance, which still enabled him to reflect his restrained sensibilities and the idea that a building's form should represent its purpose. That Kenworthy Hall is a Richard Upjohn design is unmistakable in all of its basic characteristics. The villa shows all the hallmarks of an Upjohn design, from the asymmetrical exterior and the basically center-hall plan interior, to the geometric simplicity and pared-down use of ornament. The house also adopts a style characteristic of nearly every nonecclesiastical building that Upjohn designed after 1850 and what he introduced in the Edward King House in 1845, the round-arch openings set into otherwise unadorned walls. The Edward King House in Newport, Rhode Island, became one of Upjohn's most well-known houses, in part because of its inclusion in Andrew J. Downing's The Architecture of Country Houses (1852). The similarity between Kenworthy Hall and the Edward King house is unmistakable, but for Upjohn and the architects of his day conformity was an essential part of historicist architecture. "The Anglo-American building world," writes Judith Hull, "respected solid construction as much as innovation." Carlisle, for example, did not necessarily seek a more attractive or unusual house than his brother-in-law, but he certainly wanted it to be constructed more soundly, emphasizing building materials and foundation strength as if his character would be reflected in his dwelling. Richard Upjohn seemed to perceive such steadfast reflections of himself in everything that he designed, whether churches, civic buildings, or houses. Upjohn, eulogized his admirers after his death, "followed his natural predilections for correct and solid architecture rather than for new and imaginative combinations."