Two churches in Louisburg are prominently featured in Colonial Southern Homes, a pamphlet published in 1903 by Charles Wanton Barrett (1869-1947), an architect in Raleigh. Both constructed around the turn of the twentieth century, Louisburg Baptist Church and St. Paul's Episcopal Church were among the many new buildings that changed the face of the town during a time of relative prosperity.
The original design of Louisburg Baptist Church.
Facilitated by the opening in 1885 of a spur line of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad from Franklinton to Louisburg, considerable development took place in Louisburg during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Cotton remained a key commodity in the local economy, but the production, sale, and processing of tobacco became increasingly important, attracting new citizens with experience in this field. Much of the industrial development associated with these two crops took place near the railroad depot that overlooked the river.
The population grew from 730 in 1880 to 1,775 in 1910.
Partly in response to fires that destroyed portions of the downtown, merchants built brick stores during this period, and handsome residences, many reflecting the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles, were erected throughout the town.
The original design of Saint Paul's Episcopal Church
Church membership grew along with Louisburg's population, leading the Methodist Church in 1900 to build a new edifice. That congregation chose Benjamin D. Price as its architect, but the white Baptist and Episcopal congregations turned to Barrett.
Born in Fort Scott, Kansas, Barrett likely learned his profession from an uncle, George F. Barber, who in 1888 established a large architectural firm in Knoxville, Tennessee. Barrett moved to Raleigh in 1899. The next year he and Frank Kingsbury Thomson established an architectural firm, Barrett and Thomson.
Barrett's Colonial Southern Homes reveals that he designed impressive residences for a number of prominent families in Durham, Goldsboro, Oxford, Raleigh, Southern Pines, and Wake Forest.
Among his institutional commissions were the Carolina Trust Building on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, Watauga Hall on the campus of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now North Carolina State University), and a new courthouse in Wilson.
Confident of his artistry and skill as an architect, Barrett proudly stated that "The fact that these buildings have been erected for some of the best citizens of this and other States, is proof that my work is appreciated by those in a position to discriminate."
In Louisburg, discriminating congregations chose designs that fit their style of worship. For the Baptists, Barrett designed a Romanesque-style building that featured the relatively new auditorium-style worship space. The members of St. Paul's Episcopal Church sought a more traditional, cruciform church, a fact that is not readily apparent when looking at the porch and bell tower on the front of the Gothic Revival-style structure.
The Baptist church was completed in 1901 at a cost of approximately $10,000. The Episcopal congregation built its new church for $3,500 in 1900. Both buildings are outstanding components of the Louisburg Historic District.
Sources: Charles W. Barrett, Colonial Southern Homes (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton, 1903; https://archive.org/details/colonialsouthern00barr); Vickie E. Mason, The Historic District of Louisburg, North Carolina (Louisburg: Town of Louisburg, 1990); North Carolina Architects & Builders: A Biographical Dictionary ( http://ncarchitects.lib.ncsu.edu/).
Published in The Franklin Times on September 4, 2014.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College. He can be reached at email@example.com.