Norris Garshom Starkweather, who usually signed his name N. G. Starkweather, was born Garshon Norris Starkweather in Windham County, VT, the youngest of six children born to Garshom and Sally Starkweather. His father was a farmer, carpenter, and grist-and-saw mill owner. During the period c.1824-1834 the Starkweather family lived in Canaan, Essex County, VT.
Starkweather first appeared as an architect listed in the Philadelphia city directories in 1854. However, according to a legal file in the archives of the Common Pleas Court, City of Philadelphia, Starkweather went to work with Joseph C. Hoxie in November 1852, becoming a full partner in 1854. Soon the partnership became turbulent and was dissolved by July 1854. The Common Pleas case (June Term, 1854, Case 28) was intended to divide the assets of the office. This, however, proved problematic; and the case was not settled until 1858. (This information was discovered by Jefferson Moak, former archivist with the City of Philadelphia.) Starkweather's own practice centered on churches; in 1855 he designed the First Presbyterian Church in Norristown, PA, the First Baptist Church in Camden, NJ, and supervised the construction of what was to be his most enduring commission, the First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore (1854-1859). Virtually nothing else is known of Starkweather's Philadelphia career, and after 1856 he disappears from the Philadelphia directories, apparently leaving the case with Hoxie with the courts. According to Edmund G. Lind, who entered Starkweather's Philadelphia office as a draftsman in 1855, the elder architect moved his office to Baltimore in 1856 more closely to supervise the First Presbyterian Church. In the Baltimore office they were joined by William T. Murdoch (born c.1827). Lind and Murdoch would later leave Starkweather to form their own office in Baltimore. After Lind left, he was replaced by Anton Pohl as Starkweather's chief draftsman.
In addition to the First Presbyterian Church, Starkweather secured other commissions at this time. His villa for Mrs. John C. White of Hampton, Baltimore County, MD (1856), appears not to have been constructed, but with the Rev. John Backus, minister of the First Presbyterian Church, and William Carter Pratt of Port Royal, VA, Starkweather was more fortunate--both of these clients accepted and executed his designs; the houses survive as among the best examples of his domestic work. Also from this period is Starkweather's remodeling of William F. Small's Barnum's City Hotel in Baltimore.
On the eve of the Civil War Starkweather was being drawn farther south. His drawings for Pratt's "Camden" bear the legend "N. G. Starkweather, Architect, Baltimore & Washington," and, indeed, he appears in the Washington, D.C. directory with an office in that city (1860) and a home in Baltimore. From this period is also a group of three buildings in Fairfax County, VA, for the Virginia Theological Seminary.
During the years 1861-1867 Starkweather's location is unknown, but in 1868 he resurfaces in Washington, D.C. in partnership with Thomas M. Plowman, "builder" from Philadelphia. That relationship appears only to have lasted to early 1871; after that date and until 1881 Starkweather is listed by himself in the Washington directories. From this period comes "Cooke's Row"--four Italianate double "cottage villas" on the north side of Q Street in Georgetown (1868)--the remodelling of St. John's Church in Georgetown, and the Academy Building for the Convent of the Visitation (1872-1873).
By 1881 Starkweather had abandoned Washington, D.C. for New York City where he opened an office with the young architect Charles E. Gibbs (b. 1856), a native of Washington who had lived in the same boarding house as Starkweather at the time of the District of Columbia census for 1880. Starkweather & Gibbs maintained their offices at 37 Park Row (1881-1882), 822 Broadway (1882-1884), and 132 Nassau (1884-1885). The partnership dissolved in 1885, and Starkweather appears alone at the Nassau address and then in 1886 at 325 W. 23rd Street, New York City. The chief commission of the firm in New York was the Potter Building, an eleven-story office block at Park Row of steel and terra cotta.
Starkweather died on December 18, 1885, at 140 E. 28th Street, New York City and was buried three days later in Bridgeport, CT. He was an associate of the American Institute of Architects from 1882 until his death.