Chasing Steeples . . .

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Natalee Ward high school competition – Photography 2008 D. Tracy Ward

I have often wondered why a competitive horse race is referred to as a “Steeplechase” while apparently having nothing to do with steeples.  Kind of makes you ponder the history of it all.  And that’s a lesson for each of us – History is fascinating if you’ll keep asking “why”.  What is a steeple?  Where did they originate and why?  How could anyone possibly “chase” one and for what purpose?

Early American church (religious/ecclesiastical) architecture typically originated from European influence, as did most forms of American architecture.  This makes perfect sense in retrospect because most early American pilgrims and pioneers were of European descent and they naturally repeated what was familiar once they made it to the New World.  English precedents in particular lead the way, using the guidance and reference of such prominent English architects as James Gibbs and Sir Christopher Wren.  18th century architecture came to be known as “Georgian” because this +/-100 year span was the ruling period of three English Kings – George I, II, and III.

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Salisbury Cathedral ca. 1220 – Photography 2006 D. Tracy Ward

Georgian architectural styles eventually evolved into other styles – Gothic, Victorian Gothic, Richardson Romanesque, Colonial, Neo-Classical, Greek Revival, Queen Ann, etc.  But regardless of the architectural forms and decorative details, one overriding recognizable element of the church building remained…the steeple.  The steeple establishes the church as an important visual focus of the community, and it literally draws the eye upwards to Heaven.  But the importance of the church steeple was not limited to visibility.  The tall steeple was often used to house a large bell in its “belfry”.  Bells were located high in the steeple to scream warning signals or a call to aid in community emergencies, as an announcement for worship hour, to ring the times of day, as a wedding peal, and as a solemn funeral toll.

The Holy Bible defines “sin” as anything that pulls your focus away from God.  So what better way to use architectural forms, than to point the community focus upwards to God?  This (below) Romanesque Revival First Presbyterian church in Port Gibson, Mississippi exhibits a golden hand on its steeple quite literally pointing up to Heaven – leaving no doubt as to its Christian meaning.  Jesus Christ said (John 12:32) “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”

Port Gibson, Mississippi’s golden hand – Photography 2012 D. Tracy Ward

Now we have a basic architectural understanding of a steeple…but what’s it got to do with horse racing?  Let’s go back in time again to Europe to find the origins of steeple chasing.  The event seems to have evolved from fox hunting and boys racing each other when the hunt got too boring.  The most distinguishable landmarks in the rolling hills of the British countryside were the tall church steeples.  Race courses spanned from one steeple to the next, usually between two and four miles apart and with various obstacles in between.  Horses jumped whatever was in their path – stone walls, fences, hedge rows or streams.  Church steeples served at both ends as the start and the finish.

Well, there it is … in-depth historical research tying together the Church and horse racing!  That seems laughable, but in actuality, the involvement of the church fully into its community will naturally create ties with all aspects of society … both good and otherwise.   And how else is God’s kingdom to “serve” its community but to get right in the middle of it all?  I’m sure Jesus would approve if all horse races led us to church and to Him … as the belfry rings aloud as each enters Heaven.   Amen!





D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Originally prepared 2015 – Reedited 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0027

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   Architecture aims at Eternity. [SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

Punishment or Penitence

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Eastern State Penitentiary built 1829

“Juridical punishment . . . can be inflicted on a criminal, never just as instrumental to the achievement of some other good for the criminal himself or for the civil society, but only because he has committed a crime: for a man may never be used just as a means to the end of another person. . . . Penal law is a categorical imperative. . . . Thus, whatever undeserved evil you inflict on another person, you inflict on yourself”. 

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)


My wife and I, with our youngest son Noah, recently visited the fascinating and formerly active prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania known as Eastern State Penitentiary.  In 1971, the State of Pennsylvania closed it down 142 years after its first prisoner, and the City of Philadelphia purchased it with plans to reuse or redevelop the grounds beginning in 1980.  Luckily for us, it never was redeveloped.  Instead, it was reinvigorated with regular guided interpretive tours beginning in 1994, and as you might imagine, today it’s a great place for filming scary movies and hosting Halloween events.  But what about the early days?  How and why did it come to be built here?  Is it really worth saving when it sits on exceptionally valuable property in downtown Philly?

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Copyright 2015 D. Tracy Ward

Let’s go back in time to 1787 and the home of Benjamin Franklin, which was the meeting place for members of The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons.   With the support of Dr. Benjamin Rush, the Society wanted to somehow improve prison conditions in America and Europe.  Over 40 years later, Dr. Rush’s radical idea was built and received its first prisoner in 1829.  It was the world’s first facility designed to create in a criminal’s heart: Shame, Repentance, Contrition, Atonement, Remorse, Regret, Sorrow, Compunction, and Apology – in a word: penitence, which is the root word of course for the building typology now known as a penitentiary.  

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary online, the word “penance” means: 1) an act of self-abasement, mortification, or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin; 2) something (as a hardship or penalty) resembling an act of penance (as in compensating for an offense).   This new methodology for treating prisoners meant they would not simply punish, but transform the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change.

As you might imagine in the early 1800’s, the young United States was rough and rugged.  Where did the two Founding Father “Benjamins” (Franklin and Rush) find academically trained and experienced designers for such an innovative and inventive facility?  Talk about a who’s-who of 19th century architectural heroes – John Haviland, Thomas Walter, Charles Bulfinch, William Strickland, Sir Charles Barry, and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux . . . were all designing prisons!

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Copyright 2015 D. Tracy Ward

Each man was an active and prominent architect & builder during those days, and you might recognize these names relative to their designs of such famous places as the US Capitol, White House, Philadelphia City Hall, Boston State House, Tennessee State Capitol, the steeple of Independence Hall, and the Houses of English Parliament, etc.

British born John Haviland created a distinctive geometric floor plan with architectural elements such as barrel vaults, skylights and private (isolated) cells with outdoor spaces…all meant to change or redeem the inmate, not just detach him or her from society.  It is believed that over 300 subsequent prisons around the world based themselves after the Eastern State Penitentiary philosophy and its Gothic style architectural design.  Of significant note: a young 18-year-old artisan learning his trade worked on this prison in 1833, later to become one of America’s most prominently published architects about 15 years later. . . Mr. Samuel Sloan (A Masterpiece Incomplete)

But not everyone agreed to the effectiveness of solitary confinement.  Charles Dickens visited the prison in 1842 and wrote: “… I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body…”  But now that I’ve done a little research on the methods of torture commonplace up to this point in history, personally I would readily agree to lonely captivity in lieu of the chastisement of the day.  Ancient societies (Roman, Jewish, Egyptian) considered it necessary within their justice system to punish the immoral in order to deter others.  For instance, Romans had crucifixion, Jews had stoning, and Egyptians had desert sun death.  In the early United States, many European standards (we now consider cruel) continued for criminal punishment, including castration.   Thomas Jefferson actually wrote that he preferred castration in lieu of the death penalty for certain crimes in Virginia.

Copyright 2015 D. Tracy Ward

This strange facility in Philadelphia became world famous, and helped bring about a more humane method of criminal treatment during its almost 150 years of activity.  The remains and ruins of Eastern States’ architecture today are awe inspiring, as well as creepy.  Its bizarre history encapsulates a wide range of famous personalities (including Al Capone) as well as documents an ongoing laboratory for the study of spiritual psychology, bodily well-being, and societal safety.

You should definitely visit, but wait until the end of October for the full effect. 

Happy Halloween 2018!





D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Originally prepared 2015 – Reedited 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0029

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   Architecture aims at Eternity. [SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

GUNSTON HALL – historic home of George Mason

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Image courtesy of D. Tracy Ward 2016

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights . . . ”  (Virginia Declaration of Rights)

The fourth George Mason (1725-1792), builder of Gunston Hall, was a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and refused to sign its resulting U.S. Constitution because it didn’t put enough limits on the Federal Government.  He, along with Patrick Henry (“Give me Liberty or give me Death”) insisted that “restrictive clauses” should be added to the Constitution to prevent an abuse of Federal power.  This, and his authorship of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, helped to earn for George Mason the title of Father of the Bill of Rights”

Mason’s reputation doesn’t end there – Jefferson called him “the wisest man of his generation”; Madison called him “the ablest debator”; others described him as “a genial, well-read, cultivated gentleman and a man of social parts”.

Mason’s ca. 1758 home still stands today in Fairfax County, Virginia overlooking the Potomac River.  The estate name was derived from the Mason family ancestral homestead in Staffordshire, England in the hamlet called – “Gunston”.  Just two decades prior to the colonies divorcing from the Mother Country, it is remarkable that Gunston Hall’s fashion, style, materials, furniture, architect, craftsmen, artwork, and more…were inspired, if not readily obtained, directly from England.  Ultimately consisting of about 7,000 acres, Virginia’s Gunston Hall property began its proprietorship by an earlier George Mason in the mid-1600s spreading near what is now the District of Columbia along the great river “Pawtomake”.

Mason’s childhood friend, George Washington, lived nearby at Mount Vernon – only five miles north of Gunston Hall as traveled on the river and about 16 miles by road.

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Image courtesy of D. Tracy Ward 2016

Gunston Hall’s exterior architecture features a blend of English Georgian and Colonial, while the interior displays English Rococo, Palladian, Chinese, French Modern, Gothik – and overall “presents a splendid picture of a tide-water Virginia house”.

Among several fascinating interior details is an odd and intriguing wooden pole leaning in a hallway.  When asked by a caretaker, the simple object folded out to create a ladder… yet another invention designed by fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson.

While the house is relatively simple and only one-and-a-half stories, the architectural details, absolute proportions and the general academic accuracies strongly suggest the involvement of architects and craftsmen trained in the dignified classical precedents of Greece and Rome.  Archaeological research continues in and around the house, constantly revealing new findings, shedding new light on the evidences, and solving longstanding mysteries.  For years those frustrating unknowns included the exact origination of the architectural design, as well as the builder.

Happily, recent researched information divulges the probable involvement of expert designers/craftsmen/master carvers hired directly by George Mason and shipped to Virginia from London, England.  Architect William Buckland (1734-1774), trained as a joiner/carpenter, crossed the Atlantic to Virginia as a servant indentured to George Mason.  The interior design is attributed to his skill, while it is believed the exterior building shell was already completed when Buckland arrived.  Master carver William Bernard Sears (?–1818) is credited with translating Buckland’s designs into beautiful carved wooden works of art.  Not much is known of his birth and early life, but Sears is also believed to have begun his indenture at Gunston Hall.  After their indentures expired, Mr. Sears and Mr. Buckland worked together often on homes and churches in the area into the 1770’s until Buckland’s death and Sears’s apparent retirement as a master carver tradesman.

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Image courtesy of D. Tracy Ward 2016 – The Potomac River in the distance

Today, Gunston Hall’s importance to the American story is readily accessible and available to all who are willing to invest the time and submit to an adventure of exploration.  However, the property, the mansion, the outbuildings and the cemetery were almost lost and forgotten to neglect and financial hardship.  The estate survived generational deaths and other difficulties to remain in the Mason family through the Civil War.  But in 1867, Gunston Hall began several decades of decline, repeated sales and skeptical lease conditions until finally, in 1912, it was purchased for $24,000 by Louis Hertle (1860-1949), a successful businessman from Cincinnati and Chicago.

Mr. Hertle began a serious restoration process in 1913 by commissioning prominent historian and architect Glenn Brown (1854-1932).  Perhaps not widely known today, Mr. Glenn Brown’s architectural career was illustrious and significant during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  A child of Alexandria, Virginia, Brown was destined (or so his father thought) for medicine, law or the ministry – as only those careers “were callings fit for a gentleman”.  However, Brown fell in love with architecture and was trained at MIT, being heavily influenced in his early years by H.H. Richardson (1838-1886).   He began his own practice in 1880 and subsequently enjoyed a long career of new construction projects as well as large-scale urban planning achievements, and ultimately an expertise with historic restorations…including that of Gunston Hall.

As he had himself requested, upon Hertle’s death in 1949 and having no children or heirs, Gunston Hall was gifted to the Commonwealth of Virginia to be administered by Regents from The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America.

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Image courtesy Library of Congress – 1981 measured drawings

George Mason is perhaps one of the lesser known or least famous of the Founders, but his legacy cannot be minimized.  Without his efforts 240 years ago to author those 10 amendments we now call the Bill of Rights, America could not function and likely would have collapsed by now.  Imagine how your life would be without:

  • Trial by Jury
  • Freedom of speech
  • Right to public assembly
  • Due process
  • Right to bear arms

We salute Mr. George Mason, who never pursued political office, and when elected the first US senator from Virginia – he declined.  He never pursued a legal license nor engaged in legal practice, and yet he was:

“one of the foremost legal minds of his time whose counsels were coveted by lawmakers  and  lawgivers”.

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Image courtesy of D. Tracy Ward 2016



D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Uploaded on the anniversary of Mason’s 1792 death October 7, 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0035

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!       “Architecture aims at Eternity.”    [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

Symbolic Wheat

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Photo by Pixabay on

The Mediterranean Sea has been the epicenter of the civilized world for thousands of years.  One of those ancient and influential societies, still providing inspiration for us today, is Greece.  Classical Greek culture (philosophy, arts, architecture, music, etc.) had a powerful effect on the subsequent Roman Empire, which as we know spread and evolved into and across Europe and the Americas.  Ancient or Classical Greece is therefore generally considered to be the formative ethos of modern Western culture.

Greek and Roman architecture (as well as Egyptian) are the ancient source for the design language we now call “Classical”.  Of course thousands of years in the making is overwhelming to discuss in a blog article.  In short – with Classical Architecture, the systems, geometries, proportions, and symbolism all begin with the study and appreciation of nature.  It is this “nature”, and the iconography or symbolic representation thereof that is the focus of this piece.  And despite our modern generation’s lack of understanding and admiration of American history, the United States readily displays its connection to nature and farming in multiple ways every day.

For instance, consider our US monetary icons – the Lincoln wheat penny, made 1909-1958, is considered to be the most collected coin in the world.  It was designed by Victor D. Brenner under the direction of President Theodore Roosevelt.  Lincoln was chosen as the subject for the penny to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1809.

wheat penny via Heritage Aution Gallery
Lincoln wheat penny, or “Wheatie” via Heritage Auction Gallery

It was certainly appropriate to place the images of a wheat sheaf on the penny.  After all, agriculture was the foundation of the Ancient Greek economy, just as it was for the first 200 years in the United States. Family farming was a basic part of life until recent decades brought us corporate farms and neighborhood grocery stores.  It was normal and meaningful to incorporate forms of nature and replicate its beauty within our built environments.  Likewise, if only for necessity, buildings would be nothing more than basic structures simply to protect inhabitants from weather and predators, but the ancient Mediterranean civilizations searched for more.  It was fitting that much of the Greek’s architectural adornments or decorations were symbolic of familiar animals or plants such as olives, grapes, beans, onion, garlic, and in particular barley or wheat.

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Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, built 1921, features a female figure symbolic of Industry with her hand held high. . . right hand holds a sheaf of wheat.  National Archives

Wheat is traditionally recognized as representative for love and charity, and is often signified as such throughout the Bible, making wheat one of the more prolific symbols in neoclassical art and architecture.  A sheaf is a bundle in which cereal plants are bound after reaping so they are convenient for threshing out the grain.  A sheaf of wheat represents harvest and fertility.  Grains of wheat are often symbolic of the cycle of seasons and the cycle of life.  Wheat in a basket is a symbol of self-sacrifice.  Wheat being sown is used as a symbol of remorse and modesty.  In the Christian faith, the “Bread of Life” (Jesus) is symbolized with a bundled wheat motif – it’s the imagery of the divine harvest eventually being reaped, denoting the life cut and the renewal (or resurrection) of the soul.

Descended from the ancient Greek prototypes, American Classicism continued their architectural symbolism into the New World.  In particular, the pioneer settlement of the Mississippi Territory in the 18th and 19th centuries was built around the same agrarian/agricultural economy of the Greeks.  Therefore the same architectural decorations were “revived” and reused … becoming what historians now call Greek Revival.  Fittingly to a farming social order and economy, the Sheaf of Wheat imagery represented the gifts of God, the fullness and bounty of the Lord.  

He grants peace to your borders and satisfies you with the finest of wheat. (Psalm 147:14 NIV)

0028-IMG_1251 Choctaw Hall

The guard railing or balustrade detail above depicts the front portico of “Choctaw Hall” in Natchez, Mississippi.  Constructed in 1836 for Joseph Neibert, Choctaw Hall is a transitional Natchez mansion containing the general Federal style form established by earlier mansions while blending Greek Revival details, which were popular around the country at that time.  Choctaw Hall possesses large Ionic columns at its entry portico and entrance, as well the aforementioned “bundled sheaf-of-wheat” motif utilized in its balustrade.

In conclusion, or perhaps as lead into another blog post, it is interesting to consider rye vs. wheat.  Rye is a cereal grain and a close relative to wheat. It’s a sturdy plant that grows well in cold climates and is tolerant of frost and drought, making it possible to grow rye in locations where wheat might not survive. Of particular interest to our design firm, rye has become popular in the distilling of whiskey, vodka, and certain other popular libations.  Our architectural firm is working now on an exciting new distillery facility that will feature custom blends of aged rye whiskey.  Perhaps we’ll be able to display symbolism in our ornament that features a bundled “sheaf of rye” instead?  More to show & tell soon!




D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Originally prepared 2015 – Reedited 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0028

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   Architecture aims at Eternity.  Architecture has its political Use; publick Buildings being the Ornament of a Country; it establishes a Nation, draws People and Commerce; makes the People love their native Country, which Passion is the Original of all great Actions in a Common-wealth.”  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

History – Why should we Care?

Central Pacific Transcontinental Railroad, Tunnel No. 39, Milepost 180.95, Cisco, Placer County, CA
Library of Congress – Central Pacific Transcontinental Railroad, Tunnel No. 39, Milepost 180.95, Cisco, Placer County, CA


“A nation that forgets its past can function no better than an individual with amnesia.”

David McCullough


At The American History Guild, our slogan is “WHERE THE PAST IS ALWAYS PRESENT”.  But really – what is so important about the past?  Isn’t today, this very day, the only point in time that counts?  Who wants old news?  Who can use old technology?  Who wants timeworn stuff?  New at any price, right?  By now, you feel the overplayed sarcasm.  So let’s consider for a moment. . . why History (studying the past) is so very, very important, and why you really should care…a lot.

The works of Architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837)

To begin, let’s deliberate who DOES care.  God cares, as evidenced by the Bible.  The Holy Bible is…simply stated – a history book.  Ironically this best-selling book (of all time) also speaks of the future as well.  Some say it’s His Story.  In fact, that is the point of this commentary – one can’t plan for the future without an understanding of the past.  Again from the Bible (Proverbs 29:18)

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he.”

Youth tends to have its own narcissistic focus.  Teenagers are notorious for exhibiting an attitude of “I am the center of the universe”.  But adulthood brings wisdom (or should), sometimes not by choice, brought on by an innate will to survive.  Most of us get to a certain age and it clicks… I do care about those that came before me!  Our forefathers and ancestors were not much different than we are today.  Yes, the clothes, mannerisms, and communication methods change, but not always and not necessarily for the better.  Sometimes the “good ole days” really were.  But sometimes, as in war, they most certainly were not.

Library of Congress – United States Marine Corps War Memorial, Marshall Drive, Arlington, Arlington County, VA – constructed 1953-55.

Take healthcare and medicine for example – we all tend to believe that physicians and medicine today are far advanced from just a few years ago.  And, in many cases, that is a true statement.  But for a sickness today, are we to only look for a diagnosis and cure from none other than a modern hospital?  I have a brother that is an incredible physician and has treated 1,000’s of patients during his career.  Does he have all the answers?  Do today’s doctors and nurses and pharmaceutical laboratories have ALL the answers?  Could we ever find a solution to a modern medical dilemma by looking backwards?

Case in point – a recent news story pronounces of scientists recreating a 1,000-year-old Anglo-Saxon treatment for eye infections and tested the potential cure on a modern-day superbug: MRSA.  It seems to be working and those laboring on the treatment believe many modern medical ailments may have treatments or cures buried in past remedies.  Imagine that – modern medicine referring BACK 1,000 years for a solution!

Little History of the World
A Little History of the World – E H Gombrich – 1936 page 92

Much of the lack of interest in stories of the past lies in the modern educational system.  The way students learn (or are forced to learn) in a classroom setting can be lackluster and boring.  School history courses (per my own experience) are often nothing more than a series of dates and names…memorized just enough to pass the next exam.  I’ve been encouraged recently while reading a book (A Little History of the World) written initially in 1936 by E.H. Gombrich, who in forty concise chapters, tells the story of mankind from the Stone Age to the atomic bomb.

Gombrich instructs his readers in the preface:  relax, and follow the story without having to take notes or to memorize names and dates. In fact, I promise that I shall not examine them on what they have read.”  In other words, the process of reading and learning is intriguing and habit forming….it’s actually fun to absorb and acquire knowledge about the amazing people and accomplishments of the past when presented (teacher) and pursued (student) appropriately.

My personal focus is of course American architecture & art of the past, but all facets of history impact each of us every day.  “The test of time” is an often-quoted phrase, but it alludes to the truth of past subjects that survive (or fade) ever changing fashions or social leanings.  Men and women become great by learning, and scholarship from past generations (in time) in particular.  The world’s greatest leaders apparently agree:

“Study history, study history.  In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.”

Winston Churchill





D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Originally prepared 2015 – Reedited 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0025

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   Architecture aims at Eternity.  Architecture has its political Use; publick Buildings being the Ornament of a Country; it establishes a Nation, draws People and Commerce; makes the People love their native Country, which Passion is the Original of all great Actions in a Common-wealth.”  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

Iron Works of the Old Southwest



During the pioneering years of the Mississippi Territory, settlers were forced to rely on manufacturers from the North to supply iron for hinges, door knobs, shutter hardware, cookware, firearms, etc….via the river trade along the Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and other navigable rivers in the Old Southwest.  The iron material was so precious in those early days that when a building burned or was torn down, the nails were carefully salvaged for a new build.

Inevitably, those rough and tough entrepreneurs decided it could be beneficial, and certainly profitable, to produce those items locally instead. Therefore, circa 1810 the ironworks process was established along the Natchez Trace. But the operation was laborious, extremely time-consuming, and physically backbreaking work.  By 1840 hardly any noteworthy progress had been made by a consistent facility.  However by the 1860’s during the Civil War, Alabama had a significant number of furnaces processing the valuable raw material into useful iron products.   One of those facilities was at Brierfield.

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Brierfield, or aka Bibb, Furnace ca. 1907

As an architectural oddity, today’s curious “pile of bricks” at Brierfield, Alabama might have gone unnoticed and lost to nature were it not for the State bringing the area under the park service in 1976.  Brierfield (also known as Bibb Furnace) lies in Bibb County about 45 minutes SW of the Birmingham area, perhaps named in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s Mississippi plantation of the same name.  Imagine the worker’s hands that fabricated each of the many thousands of bricks used here.  And then consider the fatigued men that painstakingly positioned them, one at a time about 150 years ago, creating walls 20+ feet thick!  The brick heap is almost a miniature Egyptian pyramid with its own mysterious and ingenious properties inside and out!  Such a unique place tends to pull at the little boy in me (what little is left) with an overwhelming urge to explore, but I did not try to crawl inside … this time.

My wife and I visited the remote State Park in April 2014, and we became quickly engaged in the history of the peculiar place.  Aesthetically speaking however, the effort to save the brick ruins has resulted in a huge pre-engineered metal roof canopy that shrouds the masonry edifice.  Well, let’s just say it’s not a very attractive attempt at preservation, and I therefore cropped it from the photo below.  Despite its current hideous protective metal cloak, the brick furnace was quite a marvelous structure in its mid-18th century heyday.

The short story, as everyone knows, is that the South lost its battle for independence.  Consequently this furnace facility, which provided iron for the Confederacy during the war, was lost as well.  As a result, the South fell behind its Northern brethren in the progressing technology of the coal and steel business.  It eventually closed for good after an accidental explosion on Christmas Eve of 1894.

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Brierfield ruins as of April 2014 – photo courtesy Tracy Ward

Thankfully for those financially dependent upon the industry, the iron & steel trades did not die with Brierfield’s closure.  The State of Alabama recognized it held a geological resource that would prove important to the Industrial Age and growth of the United States.  In fact, after the Civil War, Alabama (Birmingham in particular) became one of the nation’s leading producers of iron and steel in the United States:

“Unique geological conditions provided the district with closely associated and abundant deposits of iron ore, coal, limestone, and dolomite. These were the raw materials essential for making iron and steel, and at some locations within the district, deposits were only a few miles apart. This lucky geological arrangement resulted in the lowest raw-material assembly costs in the United States and allowed the district to grow as rapidly, in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, as Pittsburgh and Chicago.”

(Encyclopedia of Alabama)


Blast Furnace ruins in Alabama:

  • Cedar Creek – ca. 1815
  • Cane Creek – ca. 1840
  • Shelby – ca. 1849
  • Round Mountain – ca. 1852
  • Hale Murdock – ca. 1859
  • Tannehill – ca. 1859
  • Brierfield – ca. 1862
  • Cornwall – ca. 1862
  • Oxford – ca. 1863
  • Oxmoor – ca. 1863
  • Salt Creek – ca. 1863
  • Knight – ca. 1863
  • Irondale – ca. 1863
  • Janney – ca. 1864
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Location map of Brierfield Furnace from the 1974 National Register application


Unfortunately for the Birmingham and Bessemer economy, this “iron rush” didn’t last forever.  Pollution and Energy regulations increased political and social pressure on the industry, and it began to falter beginning in the 1970’s.  But the remnants of this period are scattered around the State.  Each historic facility recalls a fascinating era of American history that exhibits and saves for future generations – a custom designed blend of architecture, engineering, geology, science, chemistry, metallurgy, handmade craftsmanship, politics and social change … along with the clever ingenuity that helped make America great.




D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Originally prepared 2014 – Reedited August 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0026

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   “Architecture aims at Eternity.  Architecture has its political Use; publick Buildings being the Ornament of a Country; it establishes a Nation, draws People and Commerce; makes the People love their native Country, which Passion is the Original of all great Actions in a Common-wealth.”  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

A Survivor in the Suburbs

Metro Atlanta is well known for its sprawl, over the past 30 years rippling outwards to surrounding counties in a tidal wave of strip malls and subdivisions with names conjuring up romantic idylls like “The Fields at Meadowview” with bland tract houses standing shoulder to shoulder.  These counties and formerly rural communities have little in the way of a built legacy, often having neither the funds or the need for elaborate buildings or infrastructure.  It’s because of this that the survival and restoration of the FAA Log Cabin has become so important for the city of Alpharetta,  not only seeking to protect something for the future but it honors the past as well.




The construction details are pleasing in their simplicity.  Logs along the eaves, porch, door and window casings are notched together in a variety of joint types.

Historically Alpharetta was a small town in a rural setting north of Atlanta, primarily sustained through agriculture and farming.  In 1934, Professor Pierce L. Elkins won a 75-dollar prize for a forestry presentation.  He proposed taking the money and, with the help of the students, using it to build a log cabin on the property of Milton High School.  Various businesses around town contributed time and supplies to create a community building serving as a meeting hall and event space, which until that point wasn’t something that existed in the community.  The local Future Farmers of America organization consisting of high school aged boys served as the labor force, collecting materials, crafting and assembling the pieces of the building.


-The interior pre-move, showing the immense granite fireplace which will be replicated at the new site.


The same view taken in July of 2018 post-move, showing the opening formerly occupied by the fireplace and the new rear addition.

The floor plan is quite simple; one large room occupies the totality of the ground floor, with an immense granite fireplace on the rear wall.  The ceilings are quite low, less than 8 feet in some areas, but beautifully made with simple rough-hewn beams spanning the width of the room.  The walls were left as exposed logs and chinking, the floors unfinished pine.  A rustic ladder to one end of the room accesses a trapdoor leading to a large attic storage space.  Off the rear there was a small ell containing another room with a rear entrance. 

For decades the cabin served the community holding proms, community meetings, wedding receptions, any sort of celebration or gathering requiring a large space.  As Alpharetta and the high school grew, the cabin slowly fell into disuse.  In more recent history it was used as a living history museum, demonstrating how life would have been in the 19th century when Alpharetta was first carved out of the wilderness.  With the high school slated for redevelopment, the cabin was in danger of being lost forever. 

So why save the building? 

Alpharetta in recent years has become a poster child for successful development: new multi-use buildings are going up, bringing fine new restaurants, shopping, and housing creating a destination north of Atlanta (as well as our firm’s design of Liberty Hall What is ‘ITALIANATE’. . ., a historically inspired building featuring a restaurant and The Founder’s Club).  However, with all this progress a new battle has emerged; how to maintain the small town feel that made Alpharetta distinct in the first place while allowing new businesses and residents to contribute to the community.


The cabin on October 13th in 2017, packed up, braced, and ready to move the next day.

This log cabin, like other historic buildings, is a snapshot in time.  It captures what life in the earlier days of Alpharetta was like when farms surrounded the area, downtown consisted of only a few blocks, and the hustle and bustle of Atlanta seemed distant.  Few of these connections remain in Alpharetta, having fallen prey to suburbanization in decades past.  Fortunately for the cabin, a savior has stepped forward.  The Alpharetta Historical Society in July of 2017 had the cabin relocated just a few hundred yards down the road to a new site facing Milton Avenue. 

Now that the Cabin has been saved from the wrecking ball, it faces a series of new challenges that anyone experienced with old buildings can sympathize with.  In the years of disuse, the all-wood construction suffered from termites and rot, compromising many of the original 80+ year old timbers.  Fortunately most of this damage was limited to the rear ell, which was removed in preparation for the move and will be rebuilt during the restoration.  

The new location of the Cabin was formerly the home of two longtime Milton High School educators, Carroll and Louise Beavers.  It resembles what the original site once looked like, with large old-growth trees and a lawn spilling down to woods.  Standing in at the window, it’s easy to imagine what old Alpharetta once felt like.  The restoration will include a few new additions in keeping with current needs, including restrooms (something absent before the move) and a new basement with much needed office and storage space for the Alpharetta and Old Milton County historical society.  

Currently the restoration of the Cabin continues, with essential repairs to the roof and structure completed.  Additionally the expansion to the rear as well as the new cellar are growing closer and closer to completion, new logs have been carefully selected to match the originals and fabricated with similar methods. These repairs will secure the building’s survival in the future, allowing the Cabin to continue serving the community it was built for over eighty years ago.


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Rendering of the proposed Cabin site, above.  Below, the Cabin in situ July of 2018.


Nathan Thomas, Intern Architect

Uploaded August 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0041


Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   President Herbert Hoover, October 18, 1931:  This great complex, which we call American life, is builded and can alone survive upon the translation into individual action of that fundamental philosophy announced by the Savior nineteen centuries ago…” (read Mark 12:30-31)

The Search for Beauty


What is the definition of beauty?

Is perfection a reality?

Consider for a moment this phrase – beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Do you accept that notion?  Or. . . can beauty be something defined/designed in God’s creation and consistently recognized by all of us in nature?

The classic spirit is the disinterested search for perfection: it is the love of clearness and reasonableness and self-control; it is, above all, the love of permanence and of continuity.  It asks of a work of art, not that it shall be novel or effective, but that it shall be fine and noble.  It seeks not merely to express individuality or emotion but to express disciplined emotion and individuality retained by law.  It strives for the essential rather than the momentary – loves impersonality more than personality, and feels more power in the orderly succession of the hours and seasons than in the violence of earthquake or storm.   And it loves to steep itself in tradition.  It would have each new work connect itself in the mind of him who sees it with all the noble and lovely works of the past, bringing them to his memory and making their beauty and charm a part of the beauty and charm of the work before him.  It does not deny originality and individuality – they are as welcome as inevitable.  It does not consider tradition as immutable or set rigid bound to invention.  But it desires that each new presentation of truth and beauty shall show us the old truth and the old beauty, seen only from a different angle and colored by a different medium.  It wishes to add link by link to the chain of tradition, but it does not wish to break the chain.”

(Kenyon Cox from The Classic Point of View, 1911)


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Kenyon Cox – study for Wisconsin State Capitol – 1913

As a member of the national organization, the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, I was impressed with the words of Mr. Cox above – it was recently reproduced in the annual ICAA publication THE CLASSICIST.  Kenyon Cox (1856-1919) was an American painter, writer and teacher. His work is held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He is the author of several books–including “Old Masters and New” and “Concerning Painting: Considerations Theoretical and Historical”– and criticism appearing in The Nation, Century and Scribner’s magazines.  In The Classic Point of View, Cox shares his statement – “of what one painter believes and hopes and fears with regard to painting; of what he takes to be the malady of modern art, and of where he looks for the remedy for it.”

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Kenyon Cox – study for bank building “the sources of wealth” – 1903

So according to Mr. Cox, “the classic spirit”, or “the classic point of view”, or perhaps we can simply say “classicism” is analogous with descriptive terms such as:

  • perfection
  • clearness
  • reasonableness
  • permanence
  • continuity
  • fine & noble
  • beauty & charm, etc.

He suggests that classic beauty is directly linked to the past – i.e. historical precedent.  In fact, he uses the analogy of links in a chain…which does not wish to be broken…from tradition or the lovely works of the past.  Cox believed that a modern classic can be inventive, original and creative without having to be momentary, violent or blindly emotional. . . as if modern art was a disease to be cured.

But the “modern art” of the early 20th century, to which he refers, is a discussion for another time.  And that discussion might include theories of Traditionalism vs. Modernism – reference a recent feature article by Dr. Mark Gelernter “Making room for Traditional Architecture” (see reference link below) wherein a dialogue is initiated toward schools of architecture in the United States.  Within this examination, Dr. Gelernter uses “beauty” as an obvious qualifier:

“The world is a richer place for diversity of values, and diversity of architectural expressions. Architects can choose to design Modern or traditional buildings according to the fitness for the design project at hand, not because one is inherently intellectually superior.  And both Modern and traditional buildings can be evaluated on an even playing field with the criteria that always have really mattered: do they support their purpose, are they beautiful, affordable and constructible?  The value of an individual design should stand or fall on these questions, not on whether it matches a Modernist worldview invented over a century ago to dismiss its rivals. Our new Spirit of the Age demands it.”

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Marion County, Mississippi courthouse – from our book – a noble & lovely example of beauty!

In the new book “Beauty, Neuroscience & Architecture“, Don Ruggles discussed the link between the human brain and our perception of beauty.  I encourage you to read and study the book in detail.  One repeating visual image he uses is a circle around a triangle encompassing inside the word BEAUTY.   The triangle includes the terms Curiosity, Pleasure, and Anticipation – which all together help form our human definition of Beauty.  I believe this is further proof the concept of beauty is recognized dependably by all human beings. . . simply because the Almighty Creator designed us and nature thusly.

Legendary architect Renzo Piano — the mind behind such indelible buildings as The Shard in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the new Whitney Museum of Art in New York City — describes architecture as the answer to our dreams, aspirations and desire for beauty.  “Universal beauty is one of the few things that can change the world,” he says. “This beauty will save the world. One person at a time, but it will do it.”

In my own architectural practice, we will continue to design buildings and structures with the goal of attaining beauty – beauty that is hopefully appreciated by its community, its guests, and its regular inhabitants.  And I pledge to pursue those Godly uplifting characteristics found consistently throughout nature of purity, honesty and truth that provides joy and encouragement for all.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.




D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Originally prepared 2015 – Reedited July 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0024

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   “Architecture aims at Eternity.  Architecture has its political Use; publick Buildings being the Ornament of a Country; it establishes a Nation, draws People and Commerce; makes the People love their native Country, which Passion is the Original of all great Actions in a Common-wealth.”  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

A Masterpiece Incomplete

Oriental Villa
Samuel Sloan’s “An Oriental Villa” design forty-ninth – THE MODEL ARCHITECT 1852

Samuel Sloan (1815–1884) was a Philadelphia-based architect and best-selling author of architectural design books in the mid-19th century.  Unlike today’s educational processes for professional architects (myself included), Sloan began his career with hands-on training as a builder, carpenter, and cabinetmaker…a true artisan during the 1840’s.  He participated on this still-standing structure: Punishment or Penitence

Rather than any particular degree, certificate or license, he simply began to identify himself as an “architect” around 1850.  Designing projects such as residences, churches, schools, hospitals and other commercial buildings, he became one of Philadelphia’s premier architects.  But it was his publications that helped him to become one of the most prolific architects in the nation during the pre-war (between the States) generation.  (Note: I have a good friend who likes to identify it as the “War to Prevent Southern Independence”…but that’s for another discussion).

It appears Sloan had thoroughly reviewed Vitruvius’ Ten Books on Architecture – quoted below ….

“An architect should be ingenious and apt in the acquisition of knowledge. Deficient in either of these, he cannot be a perfect master.  He should be a good writer, a skillful draftsman, versed in geometry and optics, expert at figures, acquainted with history, informed on the principles of natural and moral philosophy, somewhat of a musician, not ignorant of the sciences, both of law and  physic, nor of the motions, laws and relation to each other of the heavenly bodies.”

Samuel Sloan produced several pattern or “how-to” books, which gave other amateur builders clear illustrated direction for producing academically correct details for particular architectural styles.  In the process, he became one of the most prolific American authors on architecture of the mid-nineteenth century.

  •  The Model Architect (1852-1853 and subsequent editions)
  • City and Suburban Architecture (1857-1858)
  • The American Architect and Building News 
  • Sloan’s Constructive Architecture (1859-1873)
  • Sloan’s Homestead Architecture (1861-1870)
  • American Houses, a Variety of Designs for Rural Buildings (1861-1868)
  • The Architectural Review and American Builder’s Journal (1868-1870):
    • sometimes described as the first American periodical devoted exclusively to architecture.

Toward the end of the Civil War, in 1864, he formed a new partnership with Addison Hutton.  But in 1867, Sloan left the practice and briefly tried his hand in New York City before returning to Philadelphia.  His career as an architect was for all purposes finished, as he never again attained a steady workload or regular clientele.

But before his streak ended, remarkably his most famously enduring architectural commission was the extraordinary octagonal mansion “Longwood” located in the South. . . in Natchez, Mississippi (its floor plan below redrawn in 1972).


The house is unusual, with its octagonal design and sixteen-sided cupola topped with a Byzantine onion-shaped dome; yet its novelty and luxury reflected the wealth, prestige and creativeness of the affluent Dr. Nutt. The unique Muslim plan had captured the Natchezian’s imagination and he proudly predicted that “after this, the Octagon shape will be the style!”

On the walls are the architect Sloan’s drawings of the mansion as it was to have been, a six-story structure of brick, plaster and marble with eight rooms on each floor centered around a rotunda. Indirect lighting was to be provided by large mirrors in the dome reflecting sunbeams to smaller mirrors to light the gloomy interior below. Orders to France, England and Italy had been sent for elaborate furnishings, mosaic floors, marble mantels, statues and stairways, and splendid tapestries. Many of these costly pieces were enroute on the high seas and were seized by the Federal blockade. Today some of these are in national museums.

When the war that suddenly burst upon the nation deprived him of his workmen and subsequently his wealth, Dr. Nutt dejectedly settled his family into the lower floor. Although a Union-sympathizer, the doctor, nevertheless, saw a million dollars’ worth of rich cotton land burned or confiscated by Union soldiers. A broken man, he died of pneumonia in 1864 leaving, still incomplete, his Longwood, “the remembrancer of Eastern magnificence which looms up against the mellowed azure of a Southern sky.”

[Quoted from:

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ICAA members pose in front of Dunleith Mansion in Natchez, Mississippi

During the summer of 2015, we helped organize a very special Patron Trip to Natchez, Mississippi – sponsored by The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, Southeast Chapter.  Natchez has an extensive collection of antebellum classically-inspired buildings, but its history dates to pre-revolution days as well as the home to an ancient native civilization for which the town is named.

The trip included behind the scene tours of historic properties such as Wyolah Plantation, the private home of Tate Taylor, a native Mississippian and producer of movies such as The Help and Get on Up.  We visited Natchez On-Top-of-the-Hill…and Under-the-Hill too!  There were other amazing tours of majestic and architecturally significant homes, such as our home base during the tour – Dunleith, an exquisite 1856 Plantation Inn now listed as a National Historic Landmark, and featured in the movie Get on Up.

But perhaps the grand lady of them all was Longwood. . . Sloan’s and Nutt’s masterpiece left incomplete, but even today it’s still full of mystery and wonder!

The basement living quarters of the Nutt family – photo T. Ward 2015
The unfinished central rotunda interior – photo T. Ward 2015


“There is no more conclusive testimony of the state of civilization of a people, than that to be found in their architecture.”

(From Samuel Sloan’s Architectural Review and Builders Journal – August 1868)


D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Originally prepared 2015 – Reedited July 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0023

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   “Architecture aims at Eternity.  Architecture has its political Use; publick Buildings being the Ornament of a Country; it establishes a Nation, draws People and Commerce; makes the People love their native Country, which Passion is the Original of all great Actions in a Common-wealth.”  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

Architectural ‘descendants’

How does one articulate into words. . . our feelings, our mindset, our emotions regarding the man-made world?  (Is Older Architecture better?)  Life has such deep meaning that it becomes difficult to find within the English vocabulary adequate means to describe the state of our eternal soul.  The in-depth effort to discover those “words” is a large part of the journey of life.  As architects, each project brings its own unique challenges and distinctive history.  Our design challenge is to transform the “story” into steel, brick and stone.

An architect’s unique experience, expertise and process allows us to blend history & preservation with safety & sustainability.   We use today’s technology to capture the past, literally to faithfully and accurately re-create the subtlety and nuance of antiquarian buildings in every detail.  Case in point – this article is a brief overview of a unique 2013-2015 project whereby D. Tracy Ward, Architect aided in the effort to celebrate the life of a great Mississippi author – Eudora Welty – by featuring two examples of great Mississippi architecture – the New Capitol and Windsor Ruins.

Mississippi Capitol sculptural relief / built 1903 / Library of Congress photograph 1983

Saving the extraordinary beauty and craft of the past is worthy of our utmost efforts.  (we’ll talk elsewhere about training a new generation of lost craftsmen!)  These are not just reproductions, these are kin, descendants, if you will.

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Computer image derived from the laser scanning process of the original

A 2015 exhibition at the Mississippi Museum of Art celebrated the life and work of Mississippi’s Pulitzer Prize winning author – Eudora Welty (1909-2001), who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi playing inside and around the Beaux-Arts style Capitol building where her father worked occasionally.  The 1903 building attained in 2017 the prestigious status of ‘National Historic Landmark’.

Welty famously wrote about and photographed the fascinating and surreal place known as Windsor Ruins in the Mississippi River bottom wilderness of Southwest Mississippi . . . a place that, today, transmits one back in time and allows the modern student of history a chance to physically re-experience the past.  In a way the quiet wooded, rural atmosphere actually absorbs you into another era far from the present impatient world of endless stress.

“Winding through this land unwarned, rounding to a valley, you will come on a startling thing.  Set back in an old gray field, with horses grazing like small fairy animals beside it, is a vast ruin—twenty-two Corinthian columns in an empty oblong and an L.  Almost seeming to float like lace, bits of wrought-iron balcony connect them here and there.  Live cedar trees are growing from the iron black acanthus leaves, high in the empty air.  This is the ruin of Windsor, long since burned.  It used to have five stories and an observation tower — Mark Twain used the tower as a sight when he was pilot on the river.”                   (Eudora Welty – SOME NOTES ON RIVER COUNTRY 1944)

Eudora Welty (1909-2001) at Windsor ca. 1940’s       

Long ago the impressive Greek Revival mansion was the centerpiece of a working antebellum plantation, perhaps the largest in Mississippi.  All that remains today are its 43 foot tall columns.  It’s these monumental and imposing classical Corinthian columns that we electronically scanned and then handcrafted reproductions as the focal points on the exterior lawn of the Museum of Art.

02/26/2014 we scanned the columns and the site area using 3d technology – photo DTWard


Any device that measures the physical world using lasers, lights or x-rays and generates dense point clouds or polygon meshes can be considered a 3D scanner. They have inherited many names, including 3D digitizers, laser scanners, white light scanners, industrial CT, LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), and others. The common uniting factor of all these devices is that they capture the geometry of physical objects with hundreds of thousands or millions of measurements.  The actual scanning exercise can be rather time consuming and uninteresting – the scanner makes not a sound as the remote computer(s) slowly collects the almost immeasurable quantity of data.

Late in February of 2014, our team gathered the equipment necessary to scan those 150+ year old stucco-covered brick columns still standing quietly many miles away from any substantial civilized development.  The day was unusually cold and blustery for southern Mississippi, and for most of our time we were the only visitors to the state-owned property.  In fact, we worried about the ever-worsening weather to the extent that the rented mechanical lift might topple in the abnormally windy conditions.  We strapped in the scanner to the tripod and lifted it up unmanned….limiting the potential danger to the equipment only.


On this day, our engineers utilized the highest resolution & accuracy in a long-range 3D scanner, delivering 1.2 million points per scan in 360 x 270 degrees.  Various scanning, modeling and sculpting software packages were incorporated during and after the onsite scanning / data-gathering effort.  The field work is only the beginning, as the “cleanup” takes place back in the office where educated interpolation will provide the finishing touches.  Often with such an intricate original, the hidden areas may not fully scan, and those zones will be digitally recreated by one our graphic artists having the necessary experience to blend historical (often classical) details with modern computer mechanics.  The anticipated end result will guide this aspect of the project, determining the best computer format depending on whether we want to a) create CAD models of entire buildings or b) its detailed parts…or is the file to be used for c) marketing renderings or for d) manufacturing actual reproduced items.

scanned computer image of the cast iron column capitals



FRP (Fiber Reinforced Polymer) composites are very effective in providing high strength components. FRP composites can be designed to provide a vast range of mechanical properties, including tensile, flexural, impact and compressive strengths.  The Welty/Windsor replicas were produced as “Composite FRP”.  This composite or combination consists of fiber-reinforcement and a polymer matrix.  Glass fiber is the reinforcement and polyester resin is the matrix.  The glass fiber provides strength and stiffness, and the resin provides shape and protects the fibers.  Our structural interior support tubes integrates a process known as “Filament winding”, a common element in the modern aerospace industry.  In fact, there are only a few places capable of making our 40’ high tube supports via this filament winding technology – ours were shipped from Virginia.

the underlying column strength is provided by glass fiber technology used in aerospace industry 

Thermoset vs. Thermoplastics:  Composites typically use thermoset resins, which begin as liquid polymers and are converted to solids during the molding process. This process, known as crosslinking, is irreversible. Because of this, these polymers are known as thermosets and cannot be melted and reshaped.  However common household plastics such as polyethylene, acrylic, nylon, and polystyrene are known as thermoplastics. These materials may be heated and formed and can be re-heated and returned to the liquid state.

Composites columns are inherently corrosion resistant, high strength, and light weight. The materials can be tailored to meet any performance requirement. This attribute make composites perform differently compared to metals. Designers and engineers have the ability to modify the physical and chemical characteristics by specifying various materials. For example, high glass fiber reinforcement structures produce maximum physical strengths; high resin content structures produce maximum chemical resistance. An engineer can specify the combination of the two materials to create a composites structure resulting in an optimum design.  Interestingly, this cannot be done with metals!

New Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation

This was an amazing experience to help put together such a remarkable presentation for the Mississippi Museum of Art.  There were many individuals that helped it all come together.  For instance, we also managed the engineering of the concrete footings and steel interior pipe support columns seen in the images above, as well as deliveries, storage, installation scheduling, etc.  This project was already over 3 years ago, and the emerging technologies in 3D scanning and composites manufacturing are evolving quickly… making this type of historic reproduction more affordable, as well as more accurate and authentic.  Case in point, last year archaeologists equipped with a LiDAR scanner discovered the ruins of a lost city deep in the Honduran rain forest. Such technology is ushering in a “new age of exploration,” says archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert.


For our team – we’re proud to be leading a new age of preservation & lineage by creating “descendants” that continues our valuable architectural ancestry for future generations!

full scale Windsor replicas on permanent display behind the MS Museum of Art in Jackson




D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Originally prepared 2015 – Reedited & Uploaded June 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0031

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   Architecture aims at Eternity.  Architecture has its political Use; publick Buildings being the Ornament of a Country; it establishes a Nation, draws People and Commerce; makes the People love their native Country, which Passion is the Original of all great Actions in a Common-wealth.”  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

25 Years Already?

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Our first office ca. 1994 after moving out of my business partner’s home basement

My childhood (which was, all in all, terrific) included most days playing outside.  When I wasn’t wading in a nearby creek catching crawdads, fish, leaches and snakes, I built “towns” under the bushes in front of our house in Columbus, Mississippi.  Matchbox cars and trucks, sticks for walls and columns, large green heart-shaped Redbud leaves (the tree was above the bushes) became roofs of my garages and bridges.  I certainly didn’t know it, but I was learning my trade.  I was practicing, at 7-years-old,  for a career in architecture and town planning.

But this particular essay of recollection doesn’t begin in 1970.  Fast forward to 1993!

My good friend JT Adams loves to begin his endless and entertaining stories of his life and tales of American history with his hands in the air and this slow mysterious pronouncement using a deep Southern drawl:  ”… so there I wuuz … “.  And perchance that is the perfect way to commence reminiscing and recollecting the past 25 years of my professional life as a registered architect.

“SO THERE I WAS !”. . . twenty-five years ago!

I had just attained the naïve age of thirty; wonderfully married for 8 years; one daughter (Natalee) aged 3; one son (Dakota) arrived in November of that year; indebted with a new home mortgage the year before; my wife (Kimberly) was pregnant most of the year and preparing to work from home in her new business enterprise; I had taken the design portion of the architectural licensing exam that summer (again), but it takes a couple months to receive the results.  And to top it off, I had decided to strike out on my own and begin a new architectural firm with two other co-workers.  Pressure and stress were on the increase, but so was the excitement and exhilaration of our young family’s dreams of the future!

The architectural licensing board exam is a 4-day grueling process, given only once a year (or so it was 25 years ago).  I had passed the other 8 parts the first time a couple years earlier but was preparing to undertake the 12-hour building design test for an unwanted third time. (I still don’t understand why I failed, as they don’t explain).  But the third time seemed a charm – either that or I was going the other direction because I finished several hours before everyone else.  I looked around too nervous to get up and leave so I added shade and shadow to “pretty-up” my presentation for another hour.  I reviewed the program notes repeatedly for yet another hour, thinking I must have missed something to be so far ahead of the class of approximately 75 others in downtown Atlanta during the summer of 1993.  With about 4 hours remaining on the clock, I got up and turned in my work. . . intensely fearful that I would be back again a year later.

SRSS office ca 1990b
Ca. 1990 in the office of SRSS in Atlanta

In the fall of that same year, I resigned my position at the only architectural firm I’d ever worked for – Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart & Stewart – located in the Buckhead area of Atlanta.  I had worked there the summer of 1986 (when I began the rendering below for my thesis) and started full-time with them after graduation in 1987.

Rendering courtesy of D. Tracy Ward 1986 – Columbus, Mississippi ca. 1852

After 6-7 years at SRSS, I had learned so much about the profession and the business and yet I recognized the surface had only been scratched.  I wanted more, and I wanted it my way.  (Ah, the exuberance of youth!)  The partner in charge back then, Bill Reynolds, understood my calling and dream to be self-employed because he’d felt the same way only 10 years earlier.  Not aware I was leaving with two other employees, he graciously accepted my resignation but also offered a place for me if things didn’t work out.  I’ll never forget that gentle nudge and vote of confidence from a role model to his protégé that September day in 1993.

I received in the mail late that year the results of my licensing exam a few months earlier thank the good Lord I had finally passed!  After only one year, the original 3-way partnership dwindled down to two, and we re-incorporated the firm name in 1994 as Benchmark Design International, Inc.   My new firm was flying solo with no idea the ups and downs that lay ahead.  After a couple of years of marketing and networking, the workload and reputation was increasing.  We hired a part-timer or two and purchased more computers, self-teaching each other how to use this new CAD technology because it barely existed while we were in architecture school.  Within a few short months we moved out of the home basement and into corporate offices near the intersection of GA-400 and I-285 in Atlanta.

The ‘ups’ had taken their course and then. . . it happened.  On my 10th wedding anniversary (June 15, 1995) our office was robbed, and 6 weeks of electronic files were stolen inside several computers.  I hadn’t backed up the information regularly, and it nearly put us out of business.  (thank goodness for Dropbox today!)

BDI office in 1995 (June 15)
Myself and business partner King Yeap on June 15, 1995.  No choice but to smile about the broken glass door in the background and the stolen equipment.  Somehow, we knew things would work out.  It was a moment to laugh & smile, or you lay down and cry!

But with God’s grace, long hours and hard work, we plundered through and learned from our experiences.  The workload and subsequent income stream steadily increased during the next decade, from 1996 through 2006.  In fact, during those early years of the 2000’s, our gross income almost doubled year to year!  Our firm had moved in 2004 to Johns Creek into an office we designed and owned.  The firm grew to about 14 full-time employees, as well as numerous consulting engineers and other specialty part-time help.  We tried just about anything creative including a cabin retreat in the north Georgia mountains and even received a patent-pending for a Monopoly-style board game design!

cabin sketch

But once again, the good times reversed as we experienced a slowdown.  No, scratch that – it was a complete and utter standstill and economic meltdown!  During late 2007 and into 2008, the incoming new work pipeline was completely blank!  We knew things were going to be rough, but we had no idea the sluggish economy was a global sickness directly affecting real estate and construction.  By Good Friday of 2008, one of our primary clients advised us sitting in his conference room – he got up and closed the doors and came back and said “this is not getting better any time soon.  I strongly suggest you start saving your cash and laying off employees.  We will start the process next week ourselves”. 

By early 2009 most of our employees had been released and all we heard were the crickets chirping.  So I had begun chasing connections and possible work for the firm. . . in Mississippi and Alabama, because absolutely nothing was happening for us in Georgia.  The workload and project list continued as a vague and sickly version of its prior condition the previous 16 years.  My 83-year-old father passed away in 2010, and then in the summer of 2011 – Mr. King Yeap and I decided to finally part ways (for the most part it was amicably) to pursue individual interests in different directions.  I still say King is perhaps the most able-bodied designer/architect in Atlanta, but our partnership had run its course and sustained itself and our young families with great success for almost two decades!  But I was ready for new adventures and diverse challenges!

The remainder of 2011 through 2014 were challenging yet rewarding seasons of life.  Among the highlights – we completed the research and photography of two books about county courthouses in the states of Alabama and Mississippi.   The Mississippi book was rewarded with a 2014 Heritage Award for “Preservation Education” from the Mississippi Heritage Trust, and the Alabama book was completed in 2015.  Somewhere in this period of reevaluation and redirection, we ceased using in our marketing and publicity efforts the generic company name of Benchmark Design, PC.  It seemed like the world already had too many ‘Benchmarks’. . . Benchmark builders, Benchmark plumbers, Benchmark paper towels, etc.!   We re-branded the enterprise simply as ‘D. Tracy Ward, Architect’, and created a new logo.

DTW logo using our rendering for Liberty Hall in the background

Part of the charm and dream of being an architect is the individuality and creativity showcased in that architect’s office.  When you imagine the famous individual architects of history, an important aspect of that persona is his/her office atmosphere that exhibits custom artwork and distinct choice decor style.  For example we’ve always been fascinated by the whimsy and oddities of the home and office of Sir John Soane (1753 – 1837) in London ( or the inventiveness of MONTICELLO – the home of Thomas Jefferson.   With similar tastes, my wife and I fancy ourselves as creative types and always dreamed of making a statement with our very own unique office.

Early in 2014, my wife and I took a bold step toward that goal, purchasing and beginning the extensive design and renovation of a historic building on Main Street (also a dream come true) in Flora, Mississippi located northwest of the capitol of Jackson.

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One of Kimberly Ward’s famous design sketches!  In this case the bathrooms in the Fora office.

The last few years have seen even more changes.  We finally, for the first time in 10 years, hired a full-time employee – Mr. Nathan Thomas.  Our kids are grown and out of the house. . . well for the most part, ha!  We are completing what is perhaps our most intriguing and intricately detailed project of my career – Liberty Hall (  The workload is full, and prospects are high for the future.  God has been good to us, and taught us how to enjoy the successes and grow from the failures and disappointments.  And perhaps this 25-year-long road has given us a bit of wisdom to share with others.  What a ride thus far!

A still ongoing ride. . . 25 years in the making.   Here’s to 25 more!

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Company trip to London in December 2005 – a truly wonderful time with some really good folks!


Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.


D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Uploaded June 15, 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0036  (just so happens to be our 33rd wedding anniversary too!)

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   Architecture aims at Eternity Architecture has its political Use; publick Buildings being the Ornament of a Country; it establishes a Nation, draws People and Commerce; makes the People love their native Country, which Passion is the Original of all great Actions in a Common-wealth.”  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

Potamology In Clinton


I’m referring to Clinton, Mississippi … and no, potamology is not a disease or a viral infection.  Nor has it anything to do with … marijuana.  This is a story from the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  World War II was ending, and the post war recovery had begun.  At Camp Clinton, a German POW facility in middle Mississippi, prisoners of war had arrived in 1943.  It was the only U.S. POW Camp to house German field officers – 25 Generals, a number of lower ranking officers, plus over 3,000 enlisted men.  The senior officers lived in duplex quarters, sharing an aide between two officers.  The enlisted men lived in poorly built barracks buildings lodging 50 men in each.  (typical POW scene above)

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Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey – photo 1986

But what is “Potamology” you’re still asking?  It’s the science and study of rivers, and Camp Clinton became an intense laboratory for that very purpose.  (photo above of the outdoor river model)

“… the officers and engineers at Clinton actually will have North America’s greatest river system in a concrete test tube.  It will be 1,500 yards long, 1,300 yards wide – a working model of the Mississippi and all of its important tributaries.  This model will cover 220 acres.  It will depict 41% of the United States – 1.2 million square miles, including 15,700 miles of rivers.”      Popular Science magazine – April 1948

Historic American Buildings Survey – photo 1986 – Detail of 20-gallon-per-minute inflow controller and Relay Panel used to simulate water flow and flooding

The educational miniature replica of the entire Mississippi River basin was huge: one foot = 2,000 feet!  Thirty-one states were represented within the model area.  Pumps and pipes allowed engineers to simulate various water volumes and currents.  At a mid-20th-century cost of six-million-dollars, the model was anticipated to save a billion dollars and countless lives by studying and understanding the regular flooding tendencies of the mighty “Old Man River”.  The risk was fresh on the minds of US leaders as the country had recently experienced devastating floods along the Mississippi and its source waters in the years 1912, 1927, 1937, 1945 and 1947.

Within the Clinton war camp boundaries, prisoners themselves helped to engineer a most interesting scientific laboratorial creation.  Construction began on the model in the midst of war by Major General Eugene Reybold, who engaged the prisoners at Camp Clinton.  With hundreds of wheelbarrows and shovels, the POW’s moved one million cubic yards of dirt, and constructed miniature streets and bridges.  It’s no accident the model was designed and built in proximity to German engineers, surveyors and craftsmen.  After all, the hydraulic-model technique being implemented into this working river representation, began in Germany!

In time, most of the German POW’s were shipped to England and France in the months following the war.  The river model’s usefulness expired within a decade or so, and the US Corp of Engineers moved its operations to Vicksburg in the late 1960’s.  In 1973, the property was deeded to Mississippi College.  Today most of the original Camp Clinton WWII river model and building structures have been dismantled, destroyed or simply degraded with time in the expansive and destructive Yazoo clay soil.

But not all of the camp’s original structures are nonextant.

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Raymond City Hall complex – photo D. Tracy Ward 2016

Architect D. Tracy Ward, and staff, began work in 2012 helping Mayor Isla Tullos to complete a major renovation to the City Hall complex for the small, charming and historic town of Raymond, Mississippi … just a few miles from Clinton.  The municipal facility is composed of three modules as seen in the photo above – (1) the 1950’s fire station to the left was renovated for the Mayor’s offices, (2) the new middle main-entry provides a museum quality interior to tell the history of Raymond.  On the right end (3) is the renovated 1940’s era building that today hosts the City’s municipal courtroom.  It had been moved to this site (ca. 1972) by a private citizen (Mr. Robert Kuhn) who operated the building for years as a used furniture store.

But it was originally built to house German prisoners of war . . . at Camp Clinton.

Interior of Municipal Courtroom inside 1940’s POW building – photo courtesy Mayor Isla Tullos





D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Originally prepared 2015.  Edited and uploaded May 2018 – DTW’s Blog #0022

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   Architecture aims at Eternity Architecture has its political Use; publick Buildings being the Ornament of a Country; it establishes a Nation, draws People and Commerce; makes the People love their native Country, which Passion is the Original of all great Actions in a Common-wealth.”  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]