John E. Carver first appears in Philadelphia city directories in 1830 as a carpenter at 108 Union Street. By 1839, when he is listed as a builder at 158 S. 5th Street, he and William L. Johnson
advertise a "drawing school" in Carpenters' Court. Between 1841 and 1845 Carver lists himself as an architect at 128 Mulberry Street, but in 1846 he establishes a partnership with John G. Hall
at 51 N. 6th Street. In 1846 the firm of Carver & Hall
also maintains an office in New York City at 31 Wall Street. By 1848 the partnership appears to have dissolved. Hall disappears from Philadelphia, but Carver continues on alone, adding engineer to his directory listing in 1855. An advocate of the Gothic style in both residential and ecclesiastical design, Carver is best known for his role as superintendent of construction for the Church of St. James the Less (1846-1849). The plans for this church were supplied by the Ecclesiological Society of England; the design was by G. G. Place, after the thirteenth-century St. Michael's Church at Long Stanton, Cambridgeshire. Carver revised the Place design, most notably by lengthening the nave.
Carver also unknowingly launches one of Philadelphia's foremost architectural dynasties devoted to Catholic church work. Edwin Forrest Durang, who will succeed Carver following his death in 1859, trains with Carver and continues his strong practice in ecclesiastical architecture.