Architect, engineer. Sirrine, an important industrial architect and engineer practicing in South Carolina, was born on December 9, 1872, in Americus, Georgia, the son of George W. Sirrine and Sarah Rylander. When his father was appointed superintendent of the Gower, Cox, and Markley Coach Factory in 1876, he moved to Greenville, South Carolina, with his family. Sirrine was educated at Furman University, where he earned his B.S. degree in 1890. After working for several years as a rodman on railroad surveys, he was hired in 1895 by Lockwood, Greene & Company, a New England textile engineering firm, to be resident engineer for two Greenville projects: cotton mills for American Spinning Company and Poe Manufacturing Company.
In 1899 Lockwood, Greene appointed Sirrine as its southern representative, responsible for all of the company’s textile construction (twenty-two mills and villages between 1895 and 1902) in the region. Although he was poised to be a partner in the firm, in February 1903 he left the company and opened his own business, J. E. Sirrine, Architects and Engineers. His first commission was designing a mill and village for Chicola Manufacturing Company in Honea Path.
During the next five decades most of the company’s business was in southeastern textile construction. By 1920 they had engineered sixty-four mills, twenty-two mill expansions, and sixteen hundred village houses. But Sirrine and his associates also designed schools, hospitals, churches, tobacco and paper factories, bridges and sewer systems, colleges and military camps. The company designed and supervised the engineering for Greenville’s Masonic Building; Furman, Clemson, and North Carolina State college buildings; Greenville Country Club; Parker and Greenville high schools; the Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Greenville; and the Poinsett Hotel in downtown Greenville. R. J. Reynolds & Co. employed the firm to build tobacco factories in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Sirrine helped construct Camp Sevier in Greenville County and Fort Bragg in North Carolina during World War I. During the Great Depression, when textile mills suffered, Sirrine and his associates became experts in engineering for pulp and paper plants.
Perhaps Sirrine’s greatest contribution to Greenville was his work on the Southern Textile Manufacturing Exposition. As an organizer of the event, he was so involved in its arrangements that Cotton magazine called him the exposition’s “godfather.” The first show in November 1915 confirmed Greenville’s textile importance, and the exposition’s board commissioned him to build a permanent home for the biennial event. Textile Hall opened in December 1917 and served as Greenville’s convention/exposition center and auditorium/arena until the 1960s. Named to the National Register of Historic Places because of its design and innovative engineering, it was demolished in 1992.
Sirrine was president of the Brandon Corporation; vice president of four other mills and director of nineteen others; a board member of Liberty Life, First National Bank, and the Greenville News-Piedmont; and a Clemson trustee. Although he and his wife, Jane Pinckney Henry, had no children, he and his brother donated the building that served as the pediatric ward of the Greenville Hospital. At his death on August 9, 1947, he left his estate to establish Sirrine Scholarships for Greenville high school graduates. He was buried at Christ Episcopal Church, Greenville.
Cooper, Nancy Vance Ashmore. Greenville: Woven from the Past. Sun Valley, Calif.: American Historical Press, 2000.
Huff, Archie Vernon, Jr. Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
Wells, John E., and Robert E. Dalton. The South Carolina Architects, 1885–1935: A Biographical Directory. Richmond, Va.: New South Architectural Press, 1992.