Marion Stuart Davis (1877-1959), a civil engineer and architect with deep roots in Franklin County, had a significant impact on the built environment of Louisburg and developed a successful practice that resulted in the construction of churches and educational buildings throughout central and eastern North Carolina.
Davis was one of nine children of Matthew Smart Davis, who served for many years as the headmaster of Louisburg Male Academy and, from 1896 to 1906, as president of Louisburg Female College. His mother was Sarah Louisa Hill.
Although he apparently knew he wanted to be an engineer or architect, Marion experienced difficulty in charting an educational course to achieve his goal.
He began his studies at the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now North Carolina State University) but left that school to attend Trinity College in Durham.
Obtaining an appointment to the United States Military Academy, he studied at the National Preparatory Academy in Highland Falls, N.Y., before enrolling at West Point. He left without obtaining a degree. Years later, Davis told his son that he should have remained in Raleigh, earning a degree from a respected institution.
To recover from the loss of time and money, Davis took a position with the International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which offered courses in varied aspects of industrial science.
Working for this company in 1902 from a boarding house in Fayetteville, Davis recruited students in small towns in southeastern North Carolina. He also pursued a course through the school and by 1904 believed he was ready to find work as a draftsman.
Davis considered moving to Baltimore, but decided to return to Franklin County. In addition to his family ties, he likely was encouraged by the robust economic and population growth going on in Louisburg at this time -- prosperity fueled in part by the local tobacco market.
He soon began a long association with Louisburg College. In 1906, the year his father died, Marion served as superintendent of buildings.
He designed the Matthew S. Davis Memorial Building, which was completed in 1913. Later, he developed plans for the Pattie Julia Wright Memorial Dormitory (1926), the Franklin County Memorial Building (1929), and the gymnasium (1949).
Early in his career, Davis participated in Louisburg's rapid growth. A competitor of local builder Masey Frank Houck, he designed homes for merchants Frank N. Egerton, B. G. Hicks, L.P. Hicks, Frank McKinne, and others.
The Franklin Times considered his design for the First National Bank, located on the northwest corner of Main and Nash streets, "the finest in town." He also devised house plans for clients in Littleton and Warrenton.
As a civil engineer during the 1910s, Davis played an important role in road and street construction. Working for the State Highway Commission in 1917, he developed estimates for paving Louisburg's streets.
Also during the 1910s, he planned road projects in Franklin, Iredell, Nash, and Wake counties.
Davis is perhaps best known for designing churches, church education buildings, and schools throughout North Carolina's Coastal Plain and Piedmont.
The Duke Endowment, which was established in 1924, provided funds for the construction and maintenance of Methodist churches in rural North Carolina.
Davis, himself an active Methodist layman, garnered many contracts through his relationship with the Duke Endowment.
Cedar Rock Baptist Church, courtesy of Drucilla H. York
In the 1950s, he designed new buildings for other denominations, including a handsome new church for the Cedar Rock Baptist Church in eastern Franklin County. His school commissions included Bunn High School, built in the early 1950s.
Davis served the people of Franklin County in many other ways. During the Great Depression, he opened an insurance agency in Louisburg. He actively participated in the Louisburg Rotary Club and in the Louisburg Lodge No. 413, A.F. and A.M. He served in 1956 as chairman of the Franklin County Industries Association, which sought to bring new manufacturing facilities to the area.
Even though Davis may have regretted not obtaining a college degree, his academic training and hard work resulted in tangible benefits for the people of his county and state.
Published in The Franklin Times on December 24, 2015.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College and can be reached at email@example.com.