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Born: 1803, Died: 1892

New York architect, Alexander Jackson Davis often epitomizes with his breadth of style the romantic era of American architecture illustrated in painter Thomas Cole's The Architect's Dream (1840). Although he was intended to learn the printer's trade from his brother in Virginia, by 1823 Davis was back in New York, and there he remained. Determining to become some kind of artist, he enrolled at the fledgling American Academy of Fine Arts and also in a division of the National Academy of Design. At first he served chiefly as an architectural illustrator, using the drawing skills that he had gained at the academies in the service of both architects and building owners; however, by 1826 he had determined to become an architect and embarked on an apprenticeship with Josiah Brady. A more important contact, however, was his work for Ithiel Town, who would eventually become his partner. By January 1829 he had launched an independent architectural office, but within one month he and Town had become partners, a relationship that would endure some six years.

This partnership lasted until 1835, but Davis would return to Town again and again, even engaging in another partnership in (1842/1843). For most of the rest of his career Davis engaged in a one-person business, only, according to Jane Davies, employing a draftsman during extremely busy periods. Never adept at the structural concerns of building, Davis was chiefly known for his designs, designs which required the construction supervision of others.

Nonetheless, his designs were extremely important to the development of America architecture; and he managed to disseminate his ideas through Rural Residences (1838, reprinted in 1980 with an introduction by Jane B. Davies) and through his collaboration with A. J. Downing. Together the two would change the American approach to the picturesque. Their ideas culminated in a series of villas built to Davis's design as well as in Llewellyn Park, West Orange, NJ, a planned community which Davis executed with LLewellyn S. Haskell.

Locally, in the partnership of Town, Davis & Dakin, Davis participated in the competition for Girard College, a competition which the partners lost to Thomas Ustick Walter.

Written by Sandra L. Tatman.

School Affiliations

  • American Academy of Fine Arts
  • New York Drawing Association
  • National Academy of Design

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