North Carolina’s Construction Industry

North Carolina’s construction industry dates back to around the early 1800s. However, back then, it was more of a ragtag alliance of various businesses and landowners building minor structures until the structure of the Capitol.

North Carolina's Construction Industry

North Carolina’s construction industry dates back to around the early 1800s. However, back then, it was more of a ragtag alliance of various businesses and landowners building minor structures until the structure of the Capitol. The General Assembly of 1832-1833 ordered the construction of a new Capitol building, which was to be a much larger version of the previous State House; it needed to have a cross-shaped structure with a domed rotunda. The commission employed William Nichols, Jr., tasked with preparing building plans. Later in August 1833, he was replaced by a well-known architectural firm in New York called Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis. The new principles would modify and improve the earlier design, giving the design its presence and iconic appearance.

The Edinburgh-born David Paton was appointed architect and hired in September 1834 to supervise the construction of the Capitol. Paton was brought in to replace Town and Davis as the Commissioners’ architects in 1835. Apart from the stone walls on the exterior, these were primarily in place when Paton got to Raleigh, NC. This meant that Paton was now responsible for a significant chunk of the construction. Paton took it upon himself to make a few modifications to the Town and Davis’ plans for the building’s interior. He added the cantilevered gallery, also referred to as the overhanging gallery, built on the second floor of the rotunda, the groined masonry located on the first-floor offices and corridor ceilings, in addition to all the interior arrangements on the west and east wings.

north carolina building construction
north carolina construction

All the architectural details, including the molding, ornamental plasterwork and even the honeysuckle crown on the dome, were carefully crafted after ancient Greek temples. This was one of the most challenging construction projects undertaken in North Carolina. It also signaled the state’s ability to muster up what is needed to finish projects of monumental importance.

According to historians, the Doric-style columns were modelled after the Greek Parthenon; it was perhaps the first time they were recreated centuries later. Also, the House of Representatives chambers were designed and built around the same semi-circular plan of the ancient Greek theatre, with architectural ornaments similar to the Tower of Winds. In the Senate, the chamber is decorated using the same iconic style of the Erectheum. Perhaps the only non-classical structures within the Capitol are the two third-floor rooms and their accompanying vestibules, which sport a gothic style. All desks and chairs were made from locally procured wood fashioned by William Thompson, a well-renowned cabinet maker.

Finally completed in 1840, the Capitol cost a whopping $532,682.34. To put things into perspective, this was three times the state’s annual income. However, this is where all of the state’s government was housed until 1888, after which the State Library and Supreme court went to another building. This signified the state’s ability to take on challenging construction projects. It also sparked what many call the industrial boom, which instigated growth within the construction industry.

Construction Through The Second World War

North Carolina was one of the leading states in the fight against Germany. It contributed significantly to the nation’s military efforts. Before the 1940s, Fort Bragg was active during World War I, mainly as an artillery training center, and till the late 40s, it was the only permanent military installation in the state. It was during the second world war that Fort Bragg grew, from a single point with a thousand soldiers to over a hundred thousand.

Fayetteville, which was a nearby town of around 17,000 people on the eve of the second world war, was struggling to find housing for hundreds if not thousands of solider and their families assigned to the post. It was the same issue in Goldsboro, which was home to Seymour Johnson Army Airfield, and the Havelock site of the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, which would impact Morehead, Jacksonville, Camp Lejeune and New Bern. All these military bases were active, providing essential services through the 20th century.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, the United States was pushed into Word War II, which sped up the construction of military bases in the state. The first of these to be built was Seymour Johnson and Laurinburg-Maxton Army Airforce bases. Following these was the construction of Camp Sutton and Camp Butner, along with other airfields, stations and camps.

The signing of the construction contracts on every one of these bases had a magnetic effect, mainly attracting workers from various communities, some hundreds of miles away, to these sites. Roads would be lined with tents and trailers along with other temporary residences.

Construction workers would arrive every day on foot, by carpool and by bus. Some even came in farm trucks to work. The military projects had a certain draw, including a decent paycheck, job training, and the prospect of continued work.

In La Grange, a local businessman Roy Rouse started his bus company, which mainly shuttled workers to their job sites in Fort Bragg; this was a seventy-mile journey to Cherry point and over fifty miles away.

construction early years north carolina

The construction of Camp Davis drew professionals in the construction industry from as far as Harkers Island, Richland, Morehead City, Wallace, Wilmington, and Warsaw, amongst other communities. These projects signalled the growth of the construction industry in the state. The success of these military projects gave construction business owners enough capital to take on more daring, terrain-forming projects, which include many of the landmark buildings we see today.

Perhaps June 9th, 1941’s edition of Life Magazine put it best, stating that it was a miracle taking place at Fort Bragg. That miracle cost $44 million, which included the construction of new roads, barracks, theatres, chapels, sewers, power transmission lines and schools. It took the hard work of over 28,000 workers, receiving over $100,000 a day in wages, to complete buildings at a whopping thirty-two minutes a structure. The construction required sixty-five carloads of building materials daily, which came on rails at the Atlantic Coast and Cape Fear railroads. By the time the project ended, Fort Bragg was quickly the most significant military camp in the country, with North Carolina being the third largest.

The Varied Nature of North Carolina’s Buildings

Anyone who has spent some time travelling through or living in many parts of the state would have recognized that the architecture is as varied as the people living here. The architecture is influenced by its unique geography, industries, and climate, along with spurts of economic growth for the past two hundred years. However, the architecture has an influencing effect of its own. From the time these structures were first built in the state, these buildings have had a role in how people interact within their homes to how various agricultural products are produced, students are educated, and other goods are manufactured

Structures Built Between the 17th and 18th Centuries

Structures built between the 17th and 18 Centuries in North Carolina mainly combined all available resources with straightforward yet functional construction techniques imported from Europe. However, back then, North Carolina lacked skilled artisans or even the influence to build grand residences. Besides, most early settlers built homes to offer basic shelter instead of permanent residences to demonstrate their status in society.

It is also worth noting that the climate and natural landscape of the state also impacted construction. The extensive forests provided an endless supply of timber, which unlike most farmlands in Europe, where many settlers had come from, the early immigrants were able to take advantage of this abundance by building all structures with local wood. Plus, the heat influenced building methods and forced them to deviate from traditional English construction. That meant building large porches, open breezeways and large detached kitchens, which helped keep everyone cool. The building techniques existed till the nineteenth century.

northen carolina construction
north carolina construction history

Most of the earliest settlers in the state were influenced mainly by European architecture, most of whom were businesspeople and wealthy planters. Though some hired professional builders, the planter often drew up the design himself for the house and other buildings. Back then, they could purchase a practical builders’ guide (available through the 1700s and 1800s), which made it possible for them to plan and build their dwellings.

Wealthy collectors also had a large selection of pattern books, mainly about architectural design written by European architects, which were then copied, and were part of their personal libraries. These libraries helped wealthy planters and business people draw inspiration.

Interestingly, the number of building constructed by these wealthy people in North Carolina were primarily functional, with few being overly decorative. Those who visited the colony during this time and even later stated that the buildings were unpretentious. The public buildings like courthouses happened to reflect the popular style of the colonies, a rejection of the overly fancy and luxurious architecture boasted by the King of England.

The earliest styles that appear in North Carolina’s architectural archive are Federal and Georgian. The Georgian style was symmetrical and austere, a style visible in buildings built between 1750 and the 1800s. On the other hand, the Federal style was a balance of classical and balanced design. Back then, many structures built in the state incorporated a combo of both styles. For instance, the John Wright Stanley house used a Georgian style design, but later Mulberry Hill, built in 1810, sports a federal style. Both these houses were built in New Bern.

Structures Built in the 19th Century

The most significant evolution in the construction industry came from the advent of the railroad. The railroad was the most important innovation that made transporting materials quicker and easier. So, materials could be mass-produced and distributed faster than it ever was in the past. The other significant development was the growing number of architects in the region; they began defining themselves, which meant individual architects started to be associated with the structures they designed and built. Like other parts of the US, North Carolina saw a Gothic, Italian and Greek revival. The styles were embraced and used to build both private and public buildings, which promoted power and a sort of influence over the growing number of citizens flocking to the relatively new nation.

The two significant examples from this period are located in Raleigh. The first is the Christ Episcopal Church, designed by Richard Upjohn. He later found the American Institute of Architects and the NC state Capitol (discussed in the first section of this article).

The state’s plantations were mostly in the Eastern region, where the soil supported the growth of cash crops at scale. Back then, the most significant cash crop was tobacco. So, in addition to the large and elegant main houses, the plantations included homes built for the plantation’s slaves that toiled on the land, according to historian Catherine Bishir. 

Many of the simple structures made for enslaved people continued to litter the rural landscape across North Carolina. Yes, they survived the Civil War and later became homes for poor farmers.

The Civil War and the instability of future years meant that significant construction was halted in the state. However, during the industrial revolution that followed the civil war, there was a need for more buildings, and buildings had to be constructed fast. Fortunately, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, there was an introduction to mass production, which meant that construction materials were available at a lower price than before. The cheaper materials signaled a shift in the design of factories and farms, embodying form and function. The textile mills of the era mainly drew from the Italianate style; this led to both an aesthetically pleasing exterior and one that was practical in function and purpose within the building.

Following these were Queen Anne and Second Empire styles which remained popular in the Victorian era. These styles are visible in mainly residential structures throughout the West, except for the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh. A little further in the Western mountain region of the state, there was a tourist boom which led to the building of various luxurious homes and hotels. The most popular of these was the Biltmore house near Asheville, built in the late 19th century. The château style was the work of Richard Morris Hunt and was the home of George Vanderbilt. The elaborate grounds were designed by landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead.

northern carolina construction
northern carolina constructions

The 20th Century

The construction industry grew to unprecedented levels during the early 20th Century, with people leaving their farms to work in manufacturing facilities. Towns would double in size, and main streets were dotted with newly built brick buildings. The rise of industrialization meant new technologies changed how structures were designed and built. The commercially sold timber and steel translated to cheaper and faster building times.

The fast-paced growth is often referred to as the golden age for architectural firms and builders, who would design every building, from banks to city halls to high-class housing. Since North Carolinians didn’t’ have the time to design their own homes, it was up to professional architects to do it for them. This led to the establishment of the North Carolina American Institute of Architects in 1913.

Later in 1915, the state licensing program was introduced by the North Carolina Board of Architectural Registration and Examination at the state college we now call North Carolina State University. The curriculum was introduced in 1920.

It was during the 1900s that the first skyscrapers would be erected in North Carolina, which started with the Independence Building in Charlotte, built in 1909 and then the Masonic Temple buildings in Raleigh.

As labor began moving to downtown, the suburbs became more of a luxurious residential area, with affluent families moving there to escape the grime, noise and drawbacks of city living. These were often built along streetcar lines that would slightly extend beyond city limits, and it was here that most of the rising architects of the time were designing homes. Charlotte was the first city in North Carolina to have what was called a ‘streetcar suburb’. The neighborhood of Myers Park was the most well-known.

The several social-political movements led to the Progressive Era, which pushed for education for all children. This meant a boom in the number of schools being built. It was during this time that higher education saw a record number of students enrol, with large state universities having to expand facilities to accommodate newly inducted students.

It was during the 1900s that we saw some of the most well-known campuses being built, both pre-Word War Two and after it. The Duke Chapel was of them designed by Julian Abele, and built-in 1932, an excellent example of gothic architecture. Then there was the Louis Round Wilson Library, which was designed by architect Arthur Cleveland Nash, along with the UN.C Chapel Hill’s campus in the 20s.

The reform-driven era meant a belief in the use of science and technology, which encouraged the building of structures that promoted health. This meant a boom in the building of hospitals, children’s homes and sanatoriums.

Thanks to assembly line technology, homes could be built sooner and for less, in other words, the introduction of prefabricated houses. These houses would be sold via mail-order catalogs. Consumers would choose a style of home they wanted, order it and it would be delivered and installed. For instance, the bungalow style, identified by its sloping roofs, horizontal massing, and eaves, and a cozy interior, was very popular in North Carolina. The two best companies were Aladdin and Sears and Roebuck, both of which sold hundreds of prefabricated homes in North Carolina.

fire damage northern carolina construction company highland inc
highland inc construction north carolina

The Rise of Restoration Services

Building owners and insurers soon understood that regardless of how careful they were, a structure could sustain water damage, fire damage, damage by a natural disaster etc. That’s why they need to invest in professional restoration services. Often these services would step in and address all the issues caused by the disaster.

Today companies like Highland Construction are renowned for their fire, water and storm damage expertise in North Carolina.  The company works with property owners and insurers to restore homes and apartments to their former glory after disaster strikes.

Water Damage Restoration Services

Experienced services like the ones offered by Highland Construction help restore water-damaged properties while understanding the need to work fast. Often a property that’s been damaged by external or internal flooding will lead to mould formation if not restored in time. Furthermore, it could lead to extensive damage, that’s why restoration must be swift and done correctly.

Storm Damage Restoration Services

Storm damage in North Carolina is a lot more common than most people think. Each year the state sees its fair share of storms doing millions of dollars worth of damage across the state. Fortunately, restoring a property to a pre-storm damage state is possible. However, similar to water damage, it has to be done sooner rather than later. Fortunately, leading companies like highland Construction have what it takes to get the job done ASAP.

Fire Damage Restoration Services

Fire damage is often pretty extensive and restoring a fire-damaged property is painstakingly hard. Fortunately, depending on the extent of damage, a professional service can restore the property to its former glory. However, it has to be done professionally to ensure that odor and damaged parts are removed. Also, other types of fire damage which aren’t necessarily visible are addressed.

Final Word

North Carolina’s construction industry continues to be amongst the most vibrant. While the state is dotted with properties of various styles dating back two centuries, they are an inevitable part of the state’s history. Today, restoring and preserving these properties is a priority for state government.

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