George Franklin Barber

George Franklin Barber bigraphy, stories - American architect

George Franklin Barber : biography

31 July 1854 – 17 February 1915

George Franklin Barber (July 31, 1854 – February 17, 1915) was an American architect best known for his residential designs, which he marketed worldwide through a series of mail-order catalogs. One of the most successful domestic architects of the late Victorian period in the United States,Michael Tomlan, Introduction to George F. Barber’s Victorian Cottage Architecture: An American Catalog of Designs, 1891 (Dover Publications, 2004), pp. v-xvi. Barber’s plans were used for houses in all 50 U.S. states, and in nations as far away as Japan and the Philippines. Over four dozen Barber houses are individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and several dozen more are listed as part of historic districts.

Barber began designing houses in his native DeKalb, Illinois, in the late 1880s, before permanently moving his base to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1888. His first widely-circulated catalog, Cottage Souvenir No. 2, contained designs and floor plans for fifty-nine houses, mostly in the Queen Anne style, as well as Barber’s architectural philosophy and tips for homebuilders. Later catalogs contained more Colonial designs. By the time his catalog business ended in 1908, Barber had sold upwards of 20,000 plans.

Barber was the father of Charles I. Barber (1887–1962), who went on to become a successful architect in his own right, and designed a number of notable buildings in the Knoxville area during the first half of the 20th century. BarberMcMurry, an architectural firm cofounded by Charles Barber in 1915, still operates in Knoxville.. Retrieved: 3 May 2011.


Early life and career

Barber was born in DeKalb, Illinois, in 1854, the son of Lyman and Cornelia Barrett Barber. While still a young child, he moved to Marmaton, Kansas, where he lived on the farm of his sister, Olive, and her husband, William Barrett. By the 1870s, he owned an adjacent farm, where he raised plants which he advertised as "ornamental nursery stock." During this period, he learned architecture through mail-order books, namely George Palliser’s American Cottage Homes and technical books published by A.J. Bicknell and Company.M. Ruth Little (2009). , North Carolina Architects and Builders, A Biographical Dictionary. Website maintained by North Carolina State University Libraries. Accessed May 3, 2011. In 1884, Barber patented a nail-holding attachment for hammers.

By the mid-1880s, Barber was back in DeKalb, where he produced his first architectural designs working for his brother’s construction firm, Barber and Boardman, Contractors and Builders. In 1887 or early 1888, Barber published The Cottage Souvenir, crudely produced on punched card stock and tied together with a piece of yarn, which contained 14 house plans (a revised edition published shortly afterward contained 18)., Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, accessed July 18, 2010 The earliest buildings constructed from Barber’s designs include the Charles E. Bradt House (1887) and the Congregational Church (1888), both in DeKalb. The Bradt house was featured in the March 1888 issue of Carpentry and Building., Vol. 10 (March 1888), p. 50. Downloaded from Google Books, 3 May 2011.

Catalog business

In late 1888, Barber relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee, in hopes that the city’s mountainous climate would be better for his declining health. He briefly partnered with Minnesota-born architect Martin Parmalee, but the partnership proved unsatisfactory. In 1892, he established a firm with one of his clients, J.C. White, handling the firm’s business aspects. Barber also became a partner in the Edgewood Land Improvement Company, which was developing a suburb east of Knoxville known as Park City (modern Parkridge).Ann Bennett, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Park City Historic District, 22 June 1990. He designed over a dozen houses for this suburb, including his own house, which still stands at 1635 Washington Avenue, and the W.O. Haworth and F.E. McArthur houses, which also still stand on Washington Avenue, and appeared in some of Barber’s catalogs.Knox Heritage, , 2007. Retrieved: 1 May 2011.