I paid a visit to Kensington Mansion in Eastover, in the lower part of Richland County last Tuesday with a group of Methodist travelers from St. James and Bethel United Methodist churches here in Spartanburg. Seeing Kensington, which is an enormous brick house near the Wateree River, reminded me of Edward C. Jones, who designed the house, Main Building, and many other homes, churches, and public buildings in South Carolina and Tennessee.
Whatever you can say about some of the decisions of
Wofford’s founding Board of Trustees, it would be hard to criticize their
selection of Edward C. Jones to design Main Building. They picked Jones, a Charleston architect,
just as he was rising in reputation.
Jones was born in Charleston in 1822. His parents were not wealthy, and in fact,
one biography notes that their financial troubles forced him to become
self-sufficient at an early age. His
guardian, who was his half-brother, did not want him to become an architect,
which he felt called to do after a pair of fires in Charleston in the 1830s, because
he felt that architects were merely mechanics, not artists. The growing professionalization of architecture
by the 1840s, however, made Jones’ move more respectable. He studied by reading and serving as an
apprentice to John Long. His first solo
work was the Glebe Street Presbyterian Church, in the new Harleston Village
section of Charleston. The antebellum
growth of the Holy City northward along the peninsula between the Ashley and
Cooper rivers brought a boom in new construction, and the residents of these
newer neighborhoods wanted churches to attend.
In the 1840s, Jones designed or remodeled three Presbyterian
churches. His success launched his
career, he received commissions to design a number of other public buildings,
such as Roper Hospital, the South Carolina Railroad Terminal, and Magnolia
In the 1850s, Jones began to design in the Italianate, or
Tuscan Villa, style. This allowed him
more flexibility than strictly Greek, Roman, or Gothic styles, which also
allowed the buildings being designed to be more adaptive to their environment
and planned use. No doubt Jones came to
the attention of Rev. William Wightman, the chair of the Wofford board of
trustees, and Jones was contracted to design Wofford’s Main Building. We still have his drawings and instructions in
Also in the 1850s, Jones and his partner (and former
apprentice) Francis Lee designed the main building of Furman University’s
Greenville campus, courthouses and jails in other counties, the Episcopal
Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg, Kensington Mansion in Eastover, lower
Richland County, and many other homes. Also
in the 1850s, it appears that he designed some churches in western North
Carolina – probably those frequented by Charlestonians during their summer
His years in South Carolina were short, though quite
productive. Active in Charleston from
about 1847 to the outbreak of the Civil War, Jones worked in York during the
war, and afterward, he landed in Memphis, just in time to take advantage of the
city’s postwar growth.
For years, we at Wofford knew nothing of Jones’ post-Civil
War career. Only as we began working on
the college sesquicentennial did research unearth Jones’s second career. On a trip to Memphis in 2004, I sought out a
number of Jones’ buildings.
worked in a few newer styles, largely building churches and homes. One of his churches, Beale Street Baptist, built shortly after the Civil War, was the first brick church built by blacks for blacks in the mid-South. I believe the front is in the style often called “Romanesque Revival.” Late in his life he worked on an early
skyscraper in Memphis – the Porter Building, which still stands. One of his Memphis churches later became Clayborn Temple, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s last address.
Photos, from top to bottom, Kensington Mansion, Richland County, SC; the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg, Sumter County, SC; Beale Street Baptist Church, Memphis, TN; the Porter Building, Memphis, TN. All photos taken by yours truly.