New Jersey resident Isaac Pursell was one of Philadelphia's most prolific church designers, competing with the equally popular Charles Bolton for the Protestant market. He was born in Trenton, NJ, apprenticed with Samuel Sloan and opened an independent office in Philadelphia in 1878. Except for a short period in the 1880s (ca. 1885-1887), during which he partnered with Joseph W. B. Fry in Pursell & Fry, he practiced independently from his office in Philadelphia. For many years Pursell was part of the effort on the part of the Presbyterian Board of Church Erection to publicize acceptable plans for churches and church manses; many of his design appeared in the Board's annual reports and were constructed across the United States. Many of Pursell's church designs exhibit the English gothic revival style used for St. Martins P.E. Church (1006 East Oak Lane, 1901).
However, church design does not represent all of Pursell's work. During the 1890s he also served as staff architect for Mrs. Rorer's Household News, in that case producing residential designs which were available to the readers of that periodical, much in the same way that his mentor Sloan had published his designs in Godey's Ladies Book at an earlier period.
Illustrated Philadelphia: Its Wealth and Industries (1889, p. 129) described Pursell in this way: "Mr. Pursell is a thoroughly qualified and able architect who has evinced great skill and ability in the practice of his profession, designing and superintending the construction of many prominent buildngs not only in Philadelphia but all across the United States. He has made a specialty of the building of schools and churches . . . Many of the buildings erected by this responsible architect are much admired for their beauty, while the elaboration of detail and care bestowed upon every department of the work reflects the utmost credit on the skill and judgment of this popular gentleman."
Pursell was very active in the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA; he had joined the national AIA in 1901. He was residing in Wenonah, NJ, when he died.
Sandra L. Tatman.
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- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
- Franklin Institute
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