Thomas Somerville Stewart

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Thomas Somerville Stewart (1806 May 3, 1889) was a Philadelphia architect, engineer, and real estate developer.


Personal life

Thomas Somerville Stewart was born to a Scottish family living in Ireland (Scots Irish), he immigrated to Philadelphia in 1818 to apprentice to his uncle, a carpenter. Late in life, he married Clara Eleanor Saurmein. They are buried together at Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia in Section L, Lot # 63. [1] They had two sons, Thomas Somerville Stewart, Jr., M. D. and Ralph Chambers Stewart. Stewart was an Episcopalian and attended St. Luke's Church in Philadelphia until his death. He is memorialized there with a stained glass window on the north wall of the nave. A scholarship for students of architecture in Stewart's name was founded in 1901 by his wife and sons at the University of Pennsylvania. [2]

In 1836, he ran for a position on the City Common Council and received 3,251 votes; an insufficient number to be qualified to hold office. [3] Stewart was a member of the Board of Directors of Girard College for the term from 1856 to 1869. [4] Additionally, he was a Director of the Fire Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania. [5]

Professional life

Stewart apprenticed as a carpenter under his uncle Thomas Stewart until his uncle's death in 1822. He continued his apprenticeship with John Guilder until 1827, staying in his employment as a journeyman until 1829. [6] Stewart began his career building houses, taking advantage of the building boom occurring in Philadelphia at that time. He was able to buy up properties thanks to the inheritance he received from his uncle's estate. He began entering architectural competitions in the early 1830s, notably Girard College Founder's Hall and the Preston Retreat - he was bested in both instances by Thomas Ustick Walter. Stewart's first completed architectural commission was Pennsylvania Hall. An auspicious beginning to his career, it only stood three days before being burned to the ground by an anti-abolitionist mob.

Stewart's first prominent commission was St. Luke's Episcopal Church on 13th Street in Philadelphia. The competition came with a $100 prize for the winning entry. He won the competition with a corinthian design in the manner of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates. The original design provided for a 200 foot high steeple in the manner of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, although the lack of available funds precluded its construction. Upon the church's completion, the Philadelphia Public Ledger reported: "The interior is exceedingly beautiful and chaste. Without pretending to give a detailed description, we state that above the floor every thing, even to the glass of the windows, is of a pure white, and in every section of the church is introduced the richest and most elaborate carving and molding in wood and plaster. Even the organ is of this color and in this style. It is praised as a superb instrument. The pews are represented as of oak and the damask covering them is of a corresponding color. The effect is remarkably fine." Several years later, the building committee from St. Paul's Church in Richmond was impressed enough with this church that they asked Stewart to design for them a church along the same lines. His work at St. Paul's led to his final large commission for the Egyptian Revival hall for the Medical College of Richmond.

By the mid-1850s, Stewart was listed in city directories as an architect and civil engineer. Stewart was employed by the County of Philadelphia to design a bridge over the Schuyllkill River at Chestnut Street, resulting in the publication of two volumes, "Report on the designs for a malleable iron viaduct across the Schuylkill at Chestnut Street (1854)" and "Report on the tubular arch viaduct to be constructed of malleable iron, across the Schuylkill at Chestnut Street (1855)." [7] The Philadelphia City Council Committee on Highways recommended the adoption of his design, yet it was never executed. [8] Other references to municipal work include an appointment by the Count Commissioners to inspect a municipal prison hospital in 1854 [9] and surveying work in Passyunk after Philadelphia's consolidation [10]

He likely received his initial training at the Franklin Institute (joining as a life member in 1831) although rosters of the drawing class no longer survive for that period. [11] As a member of the Franklin Institute, he served on the Committee on the Cabinet of Models [12] and later on the Committees of the Library and Exhibitions. [13] He was also a manager of the Institute. [14] [15] In 1868, he was a member of a committee of the Franklin Institute which evaluated the recent patent for a fireproof floor assembly which would now be considered "composite decking." [16]

Stewart was admitted to membership in the Athenaeum of Philadelphia in 1874.

Building list


  1. "Distinguished Persons List" . Retrieved 1 Nov 2012.
  2. University of Pennsylvania Annual Report of the Provost to the Board of Trustees from September 1, 1900 to September 1, 1901. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. 1901. p. 242.
  3. Journal of the Select Council Beginning Friday October 14, 1836,- Ending Thursday October 5, 1837. Philadelphia: Charles Alexander. 1837. p. 2.
  4. Tatman, Sandra (1898). Semi-centennial of Girard College. : Biographical sketch of Stephen Girard, his will, and other papers relating to the college and its development and government. Account of the exercises on the occasion of the celebration of the opening of the college, January 3, 1898. Philadelphia: Girard College. p. 163.
  5. The United States Insurance Gazette and Magazine. New York: G. E. Currie. 1859. p. 471.
  6. Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects. Philadelphia: The Athenaeum of Philadelphia. 1985. pp. 763, 764.
  7. Tatman, Sandra; Moss, Rodger (1985). Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects. Philadelphia: The Athenaeum of Philadelphia. p. 764.
  8. Journal of the Consolidated Council of the City of Philadelphia Beginning May 7, 1855, ending November 1, 1855 Vol. III. Philadelphia: William H. Sickles. 1855. p. 210.
  9. Journal of the Common Council Beginning June 12, ending December 12, 1854. Philadelphia: William H. Sickles. 1854. p. 341.
  10. Journal of the Consolidated Council of the City of Philadelphia Beginning May 7, 1855, ending November 1, 1855 Vol. III. Philadelphia: William H. Sickles. 1855. p. 341.
  11. Cohen, Jeffrey A. (1994). "Building a Discipline: Early Institutional Settings for Architectural Education in Philadelphia, 1804-1890". Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. University of California Press. 53 (2): 149. doi:10.2307/990890. JSTOR   990890.
  12. Journal of the Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts, Vol. XXIII. Philadelphia: The Franklin Institute. 1839. p. 95.
  13. Journal of the Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts, Vol. LXVII. Philadelphia: The Franklin Institute. 1859. p. 215.
  14. M'Elroy's Philadelphia City Directory, Vol. 18. Philadelphia: Biddle. 1855. p. 91.
  15. Journal of the Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts, Vol. LXV. Philadelphia: The Franklin Institute. 1858. p. 140.
  16. Sloane, Samuel (1869). The Architectural and American Builder's Journal Vol. I. Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen, Haffelfinger. p. 66.

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