Milburn, Frank Pierce
Milburn was one of the New South’s most successful and prolific architects. He worked throughout the Southeast and designed more than 250 major buildings, primarily railroad stations and public, institutional, and commercial structures.
Architect. Milburn was one of the New South’s most successful and prolific architects. He worked throughout the Southeast and designed more than 250 major buildings, primarily railroad stations and public, institutional, and commercial structures. Milburn based his practice in Columbia in 1900 and designed more than fifty significant buildings in South Carolina.
Milburn was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on December 12, 1868, the son of the builder and contractor Thomas T. Milburn and Rebecca Anne Sutphin. He studied at Arkansas University and Arkansas Industrial University and began practicing architecture in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1884. In 1890 Milburn married Leonora Lyttle. The couple had two children. That same year Milburn moved to Kenova, West Virginia, and he then relocated his practice again in 1893 to Winston, North Carolina, after winning the commission for the Forsyth County Courthouse. By 1896 Milburn was in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he designed and supervised construction of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.
In 1899 Milburn received the commission to complete the South Carolina State House and moved to Columbia. By adding a neoclassical dome and porticos to the building, he placed the finishing touches on a project that had dragged on for half a century. The accomplishment, however, was overshadowed by a legislative investigation of the work conducted under his direction. State authorities took Milburn and the contractor to court on charges of fraud and other wrongdoing. The case ended in a mistrial and did not seriously damage Milburn’s reputation.
Over the next several years Milburn worked extensively in South Carolina. He designed courthouses in Anderson and Greenville and city halls in Columbia and Darlington. Although already established as a leading designer of major railroad stations, Milburn became the official architect for the Southern Railway Company in 1902. His designs for that company in South Carolina included stations in Columbia, Summerville, Sumter, Spartanburg, Union, Charleston, and Greenville. Other notable projects included the South Carolina Dispensary Building in Columbia, Alumni Hall at Wofford College, and John Thomson Memorial Auditorium and James S. Gibbes Art Gallery in Charleston.
Milburn moved his practice to Washington, D.C., in 1902 and formed a partnership with the architect Michael Heister. The firm had no difficulty obtaining commissions for commercial and federal projects. By the early 1920s Milburn and Heister had designed buildings for the U.S. Department of Labor, the Department of Commerce, and the American Federation of Labor.
Milburn’s designs were stylistically eclectic and generally derivative. He favored the neoclassical style, and beaux arts and Romanesque influences were evident in much of his work. After Heister joined the firm, he became the principal designer, leaving Milburn to concentrate on the business side.
With their services in demand elsewhere, Milburn and Heister discontinued work in South Carolina about 1907. In addition to their practice in Washington, the firm remained active in North Carolina and maintained a branch office in Durham that was managed by Milburn’s son, Thomas Yancey Milburn, after about 1920. Milburn died in Asheville, North Carolina, on September 21, 1926.
Wodehouse, Lawrence. “Frank Pierce Milburn (1868–1926), a Major Southern Architect.” North Carolina Historical Review 50 (July 1973): 289–303.