Owen Biddle, "House carpenter and teacher of architectural drawing," is primarily remembered as the author of The Young Carpenter's Assistant, or A System of Architecture, Adapted to the Style of Building in the United States. Illustrated with forty-four plates, this is one of the earliest books on architecture written and published in America, and it was widely reprinted throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1833 John Haviland revised the original text, added a new introduction and twenty plates, and reissued it as An Improved and Enlarged Edition of Biddle's Young Carpenter's Assistant.
Of Biddle's lamentably brief and promising career, little is known. He was the son of Owen Biddle, Sr., a member of the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, and from 1799 to 1801, was associated with the carpenter Joseph Cowgill. Biddle was elected to The Carpenters' Company in 1800 and designed the Arch Street Meeting House (330 Arch St., Phila.) in 1803, for which his drawing survives. When the Schuylkill Permanent Bridge was constructed (1798-1805), Biddle was hired "to perform the workmanship of the covering, agreeably to a design furnished by them to him." The president of the bridge company wrote that the covering "was executed with singular fidelity and credit, by Mr. Owen Biddle, an ingenious carpenter and architect of Philadelphia who made additions to the design." Biddle's account of the project appeared as a "Description of the Schuylkill Bridge," in the Literary Magazine and American Register (October, 1805). He also served as master builder of John Dorsey's Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Building (1805-1806; burned, 1845).
Roger W. Moss.
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