Robert Mills (architect)
August 12, 1781|
Charleston, South Carolina
|Died||March 3, 1855
|Spouse(s)||Eliza Barnwell Smith|
|Parents||William Mills & Ann Taylor|
Robert Mills (August 12, 1781 – March 3, 1855), most famously known for designing the Washington Monument, is sometimes called the first native born American to become a professional architect, though Charles Bulfinch perhaps has a clearer claim to this honor. Mills studied in Charleston, South Carolina as a student of Irish-born architect James Hoban—who later designed the White House, which became the official home of US presidents. Both Hoban and Mills were Freemasons.
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Mills moved to Philadelphia in 1802 where he became an associate and student of Benjamin Henry Latrobe. A graduate of College of Charleston, Mills gradually became known in his own right. Around the age of 19, Mills left Charleston for Washington, DC, to work with his friend and mentor James Hoban on the construction of the White House. During this time, Robert met Thomas Jefferson, who would become the first full term resident of the new Presidential home. Jefferson befriended Mills and would become his next significant mentor. Some Philadelphia buildings that he designed are Washington Hall, Samson Street Baptist Church, and the Octagon Church for the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. He also designed the Upper Ferry Bridge covering. He also designed and built the still-original First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia in 1802. This church later was the home to Woodrow Wilson who grew up in the church while his father, Joseph R. Wilson was Pastor. In 1808 he created blueprints for a prison used mostly for reform. In 1811 the prison was constructed in Mt Holly, New Jersey. "With the possible exception of [their] neighbor, Eastern States Penitentiary, it is the most significant prison building in the United States" says the Historic Burlington County Prison Museum Association. he worked on the construction of the white house with james hoban.
In 1812, Mills designed the Monumental Church in Richmond, Virginia which was built to commemorate the death of 72 people in the Richmond Theatre. This incident sparked (no pun intended) his later interest in fireproofing measures.
Moving to Baltimore, he designed St. John's Episcopal Church, the Maryland House of Industry, the First Baptist Church of Baltimore (at South Sharp and West Lombard Streets) in 1817 and the Greek Revival mansion for XXX at the northeast corner of West Franklin and Cathedral Streets (across from the Old Baltimore Cathedral/Basiilica of the Assumption of Mary) occupied later from 1857 to 1892 by the Maryland Club, a dining and leisure society of Southern-leaning gentlemen. He is noted for designing the nation's first Washington Monument, with four surrounding park squares named Washington Place along the north-south axis of North Charles Street and Mount Vernon Place along East and West Monument Streets in the newly developed Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood from "Howard's Woods", the country estate and mansion "Belvedere" north of old Baltimore Town of Col.John Eager Howard (1752-1827), Revolutionary War commander of the famed "Maryland Line" regiment of the Continental Army. Baltimore's signature landmark began construction in 1815 and was completed in 1829.
In 1820, he was appointed as acting commissioner of the Board of Public Works in South Carolina. In 1823, Mills was the superintendent of public buildings. In the next few years, he designed numerous buildings in South Carolina including court houses, the campus of the University of South Carolina, jails, and the Fireproof Building in Charleston. In 1825, he authored an Atlas of the State of South Carolina. One year later, he published Statistics of South Carolina. He reputedly designed the Old Horry County Courthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
In 1836 he won the competition for the design of the Washington Monument on the future Mall of the National Capital, Washington D.C., which is his best known work, construction of which began in 1848 but was interrupted in 1854 and not resumed until 1879 until dedication in 1885, thirty years after his death.
He also designed the Department of Treasury building, east of the Executive Mansion (White House) on the entire block at Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street, N.W. (which replaced two smaller earlier Federal-era office buildings for the State and Treasury Departments and several other federal buildings in Washington, D. C. including the U.S. Patent Office Building, patterned after the Parthenon (now renovated into two adjoining museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery) and the old General Post Office. See Patent Office 1877 fire. In South Carolina, he designed county courthouses in at least 18 counties, some of the public buildings in Columbia, and a few private homes. He also designed portions of the Landsford Canal, Chester County, on the Catawba River in South Carolina.
Mills was an early advocate of buildings designed to include fireproof materials. A fire in Kingstree, South Carolina Building which had been designed by Mills, but the county records on the first floor were protected due to his fireproofing measures. A fire also destroyed much of the Lancaster County, South Carolina Courthouse in August 2008.
He died in Washington, D.C. in 1855 and was buried at the Congressional Cemetery there in the District of Columbia. Robert Mills was officially inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 2007
The broadest context for Mills' architecture was neoclassical architecture. This was the dominant style of building that was winning architectural design competitions and major projects of the time, both in Europe and in America. Under the umbrella of neoclassicism, his designs were partly Palladian, Georgian and often Greek Revival.
Apart from stylistic movements in architecture going on in the world at his time, Robert Mills was involved in the more local context of building in the Mid-Atlantic States. There, and especially in Washington D.C., were many figures contributing architecture of high quality. To build as Mills did on what is now the National Mall, he had to contend with the planning strictures of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, as well as Andrew and Joseph Ellicott. Being an architect of the now Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area he was also undoubtedly influenced by Thomas Jefferson and Jeffersonian architecture. Mills, with Jefferson and others, was able to create a distinctive federal style of architecture.
See also 
- Robert Mills Buildings
- Good Samaritan Hospital (Cincinnati)
- John Henry Devereux South Carolina architect who was a contemporary
- Mills, Robert, Atlas of the State of South Carolina, Southern Historical Press, Easley, SC, 1980 reprint, ISBN 0-89308-197-3.
- Mills, Robert, Statistics of South Carolina, Reprint Company, Spartanburg, SC, 1972 reprint, ISBN 0-87152-098-2.
- Edgar, Walter, ed. The South Carolina Encyclopedia, University of South Carolina Press, 2006, pp. 637-638, ISBN 978-1-57003-598-2
- "South Carolina Department of Archives and History". National Register Properties in South Carolina: Old Horry County Courthouse, Horry County (Main St., Conway), including three photos. South Carolina Department of Archives and History. 2010-06-21.
- Patent Office XIV (32). New York: Scientific American. 16 April 1859. pp. 263–264. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
- Goodheart, Adam (July 2006). Back To The Future: One of Washington's most exuberant monuments — the old Patent Office Building — gets the renovation it deserves. Smithsonian magazine. p. 4. Retrieved 21 December 2011.
- ""LSU Alumnus To Restore Washington Monument: "Louisianians Preserving America's Great Architectural Treasures", March 3, 1999". lsu.com. Retrieved November 10, 2009.
Further reading 
- Bryan, John (26 November 2001). Robert Mills: America's First Architect. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 330. ISBN 1-56898-296-8. ISBN 978-1-56898-296-0.
- Mills, Robert; Liscombe, Rhodri Windsor (1994). Altogether American: Robert Mills, Architect and Engineer, 1781-1855 (HardcoverOxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508019-X.). New York:
- Ravenel, Beatrice St. Julien (1904-1990); Julien, Carl (photographs); Carolina Art Association (1992). Architects of Charleston. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press. p. 295. ISBN 0-87249-828-X. LCCN 91034126.
- Wells, John E.; Dalton, Robert E. (1992). The South Carolina architects, 1885–1935: a biographical dictionary. Richmond, Virginia: New South Architectural Press. ISBN 1-882595-00-9.
Ammi B. Young,
as Federal Architectural Advisor