Wilson Brothers & Company

Wilson Brothers & Company was a prominent Victorian-era architecture and engineering firm established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that was especially noted for its structural expertise. The brothers designed or contributed engineering work to hundreds of bridges, railroad stations and industrial buildings, including the principal buildings at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.[1] They also designed churches, hospitals, schools, hotels and private residences. Among their surviving major works are the Pennsylvania Railroad, Connecting Railway Bridge over the Schuylkill River (1866–67), the main building of Drexel University (1888–91), and the train shed of Reading Terminal (1891–93), all in Philadelphia.

B&PStation1908
Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Passenger Terminal ("6th Street Station"), Washington, DC (1873–77, demolished 1908). U.S. President James A. Garfield was assassinated in this station in 1881.

History

Joseph M Wilson King's Views 1901
Joseph M. Wilson, 1901

The firm's founders were Joseph Miller Wilson (1838–1902), architect and civil engineer, John Allston Wilson (1837–96), civil engineer, and Frederick Godfrey Thorn (c. 1837–1911), architect and civil engineer. Youngest brother Henry W. Wilson (1844–1910), civil engineer, joined the firm in 1886, and was promoted to partner in 1899. All three Wilson brothers attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. Joseph also studied metallurgy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Joseph worked in the construction department of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) from 1860 to 1876, designing bridges and railroad structures, including several commuter stations on the Main Line. For a PRR subsidiary, he designed the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Passenger Terminal in Washington, DC (1873–77, demolished 1908), the station in which U.S. President James A. Garfield was assassinated in 1881. The National Gallery of Art now occupies its site at 6th Street & Constitution Avenue on the National Mall. John did engineering work for several railroads, including the PRR and the Reading Railroad. Wilson Brothers & Company was founded on January 1, 1876.

For the 1876 Centennial Exposition, Henry Petit and Joseph M. Wilson co-designed the Main Exhibition Building—the largest building in the world, 1,876 feet (572 m) in length and enclosing 21-1/2 acres. The pair also designed Machinery Hall, and oversaw construction of the other principal buildings.[2] Joseph co-authored a 3-volume history of the Philadelphia World's Fair.[3]

Joseph's commission for Philadelphia's Presbyterian Hospital (1874), may be related to later work on Presbyterian churches, nursing homes and an orphanage. The firm's extensive work for financer Anthony J. Drexel, the city's wealthiest citizen and a Roman Catholic, may have led to subsequent commissions for convents and Catholic hospitals. In Philadelphia, the firm designed the headquarters for the Baldwin Locomotive Works (pre-1885, demolished); and, in Beach Haven, NJ, the Baldwin Hotel (1883, burned 1960), Holy Innocents Episcopal Church (1881–82), and a number of summer homes for company executives.

In 1881, the PRR hired the firm to design its main passenger terminal at Broad & Filbert Streets in Center City Philadelphia, directly west of City Hall. This was one of the first steel-framed buildings in America to use masonry not as structure, but as a curtain wall (as skyscrapers do).[4] The station was widely admired; 15% of the architects in an 1885 poll voted it one of "The Best Ten Buildings in the United States."[5] Eleven years later, the Wilson Brothers' Gothic Revival station was incorporated into Frank Furness's far larger Broad Street Station. The Wilsons designed its new train shed, at the time (1892), the largest single-span train shed in the world.

In 1885, the Wilsons designed a high-ceilinged, 2-story banking house for Drexel & Company, on the southeast corner of 5th & Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia. Four years later, Drexel wished to expand, but Independence National Bank next door refused to sell. In response, Joseph Wilson designed the Drexel Building, a 10-story, H-shaped addition that surrounded Independence National Bank on the east, west and south sides, permanently depriving the neighbor of sunlight. The iron-skeletoned addition was built atop Drexel's banking house, and was one of the first examples of X-bracing. One of the buildings demolished for this was Library Hall, the Library Company of Philadelphia's headquarters, that had been design by William Thornton (1789–91). In an ironic turn of events, the Drexel Building itself was demolished in 1959, and a replica of Library Hall was built on its original site by the American Philosophical Society.

Following the deaths of the two older brothers, the firm continued as Wilson, Harris and Richards.

List of buildings

Max Schmitt in a Single Scull
Max Schmitt in a Single Scull by Thomas Eakins (1871). The Pennsylvania Railroad, Connecting Railway Bridge over the Schuylkill River (1866–67) is in the background.
MainBuilding
Main Exhibition Building, Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia, PA (1875–76, disassembled and sold 1881). In terms of total area enclosed, 21-1/2 acres, this was the largest building in the world.
1881Station
Broad Street Station, Philadelphia, PA (1881, expanded 1893, demolished 1953) in 1903. The Wilson Brothers' 1881 station is the section at center.
New Terminal Depot at Philadelphia LOC 01533v
Reading Terminal Trainshed, Philadelphia, PA (1891–93). The Headhouse (office building) was designed by Francis H. Kimball.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Railroad

Philadelphia Buildings

1876 Centennial Exposition

  • Memorial Hall (Herman Schwarzmann, architect; Joseph M. Wilson, engineer) (1875–76)[30]
  • Main Exhibition Building (Henry Petit, architect; Joseph M. Wilson, engineer) (1875–76, disassembled and sold 1881)[31]
  • Machinery Hall (Henry Petit, architect; Joseph M. Wilson, engineer) (1875–76, disassembled and sold 1881)[32]

Other Pennsylvania buildings

Buildings outside Pennsylvania

New Jersey

New York

Virginia

Vermont

Illinois

Other locations

N. Y. Connecting Bridge, Philada, by Purviance, W. T. (William T.)

Pennsylvania Railroad, Connecting Railway Bridge over Schuylkill River (1866–67), John A. Wilson, engineer. This 2-track bridge was widened to 5 tracks in 1915.

Bryn Mawr Station

Bryn Mawr Station, Pennsylvania Railroad, Bryn Mawr, PA (1869, demolished 1963).

Wynnewood Station Pennsylvania

Wynnewood Station, Pennsylvania Railroad, Wynnewood, PA (1870).

Haverford Station Pennsylvania

Haverford Station, Pennsylvania Railroad, Haverford, PA (c. 1870).

PumpingStation

Spring Garden Pumping Station, East River Drive, Philadelphia, PA (pre-1874, demolished pre-1915). John A. Wilson's Pennsylvania Railroad Connecting Bridge (1866–67) can be seen in the background.

Centennial, Machinery Hall, by Kilburn Brothers

Interior of Machinery Hall, Centennial Exposition (1875–76, demolished 1881).

PottsHouseInterior

Interior of Joseph D. Potts house, 3905 Spruce St., Philadelphia, PA (1850, altered by Joseph M. Wilson 1876), now WXPN-FM, University of Pennsylvania.

HolyInnocents

Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, Beach Haven, NJ (1881–82), now Long Beach Island Historical Society and Museum.

Chetwynd from Rural Pennsylvania 1897

"Chetwynd" (John H. Converse house), Rosemont, PA (1882–83, expanded 1887 & 1890, demolished 1960s).

The Norman Williams Public Library, Woodstock, VT

Norman Williams Public Library, Woodstock, Vermont (1883–84).

DrexelBuilding WilsonBrothers 1889Expansion

Drexel & Company Banking House, SE corner 5th & Chestnut Sts., Philadelphia, PA (1885, expanded 1889, demolished 1959).

Drexel Main Building c.1892

Main Building, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA (1888–91).

Main Building - Drexel University - IMG 7354

Interior, Main Building, Drexel University.

Ausable Club, St. Huberts

St. Hubert's Inn, St. Huberts, NY (1890), (now Ausable Club, Adirondack Mountain Reserve).

Unidentified building - University of Pennsylvania - IMG 6638

George W. Childs Drexel mansion (now Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA (1891).

BroadStreetStationTrainShed

Broad Street Station trainshed, Philadelphia, PA (1892–94, burned 1923). This had the largest single span, 306 ft. (91 m.), of any trainshed in the world.

UVM Williams Hall building 20040101

Williams Science Hall, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT (1894–96).

Physicians and Dentists Building

Physicians & Dentists Office Building, Philadelphia, PA (1896).

Lebanon PA

Reading Railroad Station, Lebanon, Pennsylvania (1900)

References

  1. ^ Wilson Bros. & Co.'s 1885 Catalogue lists 432 railroad bridges, 42 highway bridges, 141 railroad stations, and almost 200 industrial buildings. Wilson Brothers & Company, Catalogue, pp. 9–29.
  2. ^ George E. Thomas, "Design for the Main Exhibition Building, Philadelphia Centennial Exposition," in James F. O'Gorman, et al., Drawing Toward Building: Philadelphia Architectural Graphics, 1732–1986 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986), pp. 140–42.
  3. ^ Earl Shinn, Walter Smith & Joseph M. Wilson, Masterpieces of the Centennial International Exhibition Illustrated (Philadelphia: Gebbie & Barrie, 1876–78).
  4. ^ Thomas, Drawing Toward Building, pp. 140–42.
  5. ^ American Architect and Building News, June 13, 1885, pp. 283–85. Philadelphia City Hall was the only other Philadelphia building listed in the top 20.
  6. ^ PRR Connecting Railway Bridge from Bryn Mawr College
  7. ^ PRR Connecting Railway Bridge at Historic American Buildings Survey
  8. ^ Bryn Mawr Station at Historic American Buildings Survey
  9. ^ Wynnewood Station at Historic American Buildings Survey
  10. ^ Haverford Station at Lower Merion Historical Society
  11. ^ Existing Stations in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
  12. ^ 1st Bryn Mawr Hotel from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  13. ^ Ardmore Train Station from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  14. ^ Broad Street Station at Historic American Buildings Survey
  15. ^ Delaware River Bridge from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  16. ^ Susquehanna River Bridge from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  17. ^ Reading Railroad Overpass at Historic American Buildings Survey
  18. ^ Spring Garden Pumping Station at Historic American Buildings Survey.
  19. ^ Presbyterian Hospital from Bryn Mawr College
  20. ^ Potts House at Historic American Buildings Survey
  21. ^ St. Andrew's from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  22. ^ Presbyterian Home from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  23. ^ Drexel Institute at Historic American Buildings Survey
  24. ^ Ralston House from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  25. ^ Drexel Mansion from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  26. ^ Reading Terminal Trainshed at Historic American Buildings Survey
  27. ^ Commercial Museum from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  28. ^ United Gas Improvement from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  29. ^ Land Title Building from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  30. ^ Memorial Hall at Historic American Buildings Survey
  31. ^ Main Exhibition Building from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  32. ^ Machinery Hall from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  33. ^ Norristown State Hospital from Flickr
  34. ^ Baldwin Hotel from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  35. ^ williamscottageinn.com
  36. ^ LBI Museum at Historic American Buildings Survey
  37. ^ lbimuseum.org
  38. ^ West Point Observatory from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  39. ^ Union Station Train Shed
  40. ^ Potter, Janet Greenstein (1996). Great American Railroad Stations. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 287. ISBN 978-0471143895.
  41. ^ normanwilliams.org
  42. ^ Norman Williams Library from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  43. ^ Williams Science Hall
  44. ^ B&P Station from National Gallery of Art
  45. ^ "A BOOM IN BUILDING". Detroit Free Press. Detroit Free Press. Detroit Free Press. March 4, 1894.
Furness & Hewitt
(1871–1875)
Frank Furness, Architect
(1875–1881)
Furness & Evans
(1881–1886)
Furness, Evans & Company
(1886–c.1931)
Demolished buildings
Associated people

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