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J. W. B. Fry was born in Pottstown, PA, and came to Philadelphia in 1874 to study at the Franklin Institute Drawing School, remaining there for the school year 1874/75. In 1880 he returned to school, this time at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, where he studied from 1880 to 1882. His first appearance in the Philadelphia city directories is in 1881, when he lists himself as a draftsman. In these years of apprenticeship Fry worked as a superintendant for the building/contracting firm of Stacy, Reeves & Sons before spending two years with Addison Hutton and another two years with George Pearson. In 1885 he joined the prosperous church designer Isaac Pursell as a partner in Pursell & Fry. This partnership endured to 1887, when its demise was announced in the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide.

Fry then returned to independent practice, maintaining an office at 119 South 4th Street in Philadelphia through 1890 and moving to the Forrest Building in that year. His last appearance in the Philadelphia city directories occurrs in 1892. Projects designed by Fry independently indicate, not surprisingly, an affinity for work in the Pottstown area.

In 1889 Illustrated Philadelphia: Its Wealth and Industries (p. 244) published a laudatory biographical sketch of Fry. Much of that sketch has been used for the information given above, but it is worthwhile to quote the conclusion:

"The steady increase of his commissions and the widening field of his labors has been most gratifying to his many friends and admirers in this city, and elsewhere, and his popularity is based upon a sound and substantial footing. His designs have become deservedly celebrated, and his services are in large and influential demand in planning and supervising the erection of the most advanced classes of public and private buidings, among which are churches and villas, cottages, mansions and business blocks in this and other cities. His work is easily pointed out and widely commended for its substantial elegance and beauty. He attends faithfully to details, his plans are well digested, and his architectural efforts tend greatly to beautify the urban characteristics of Pennsylvania cities. He is at all times fully prepared with all the necessary facilities to design and supervise the erection of any building promptly, skillfuly and with that intelligent apprehension of the wants of his patrons which has caused his efforts to be so highly appreciated."

Written by Sandra L. Tatman.

School Affiliations

  • Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art
  • Franklin Institute Drawing School


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