Woolletts in the USA

Much of the following information came to me by way of Walter Wheeler in New York to whom I am very grateful, he is an architect and architectural historian and not even a Woollett!

From an article by Austin O'Brien.

"For three generations the Woollett family practiced architecture in mid and late nineteenth century Albany. The productive William L. Woollett (1815-1874) handed his practice on to his talented son, William M. Woollett (1850-1880) who died early in his promising career. Two of his children, William Lee Woollett and John Woollett, later became architects and practiced in Albany at the turn of the century.

Born near Maidstone in Kent on June 24th 1815 the first Woollett apparently emigrated in 1834. He first appears in an Albany directory in 1845 when he listed himself as William L. Woollett Jr., Architect of the Delevan House. The Delevan House, a massive classically inspired hotel which covered a full block on Broadway, on the current site of Union Station, is also attributed to another local architect, J.W. Adams, in the 1845 Albany City Guide.

As a young man and newcomer to Albany it seems likely that Woollett worked under Adams for this major commission. The Delavan House burned to the ground, with much death and devastation, when filled to capacity on New Years Eve in 1894. Like the Delavan House, many of Woollett's buildings have been lost in the course of the past century. His best known surviving works - Our Lady of Angels R.C. Church (1869), Emmanuel Baptist Church (1868-71), and a delightful picturesque English Gothic chapel (or schoolhouse according to one source) added in 1866 to the Church of the Holy Innocents - date from the period of his partnership with Edward Ogden from 1856 to 1870. A resident of Loudonville, Woollett designed a number of buildings outside Albany including "Fountain Elms" in Utica (now the home of the Oneida County Historical Society) which was completed in 1852. A devout Methodist, he served as superintendent of the Watervliet Union Sabbath School, Trustee of the College of Missionaries at Syracuse University, and President of the Albany YMCA in 1859-60. He was also a fellow of the American Institute of Architects in London.

At the time of his death Woollett was working on the Albany Savings Bank, a handsome Italianate building, on the northwest corner of State and Chapel Streets, which was completed in 1875 by Thomas Fuller and William M. Woollett."

One obituary says that he died suddenly at the residence of his brother in law J. Woodward, 79 Ten Broeck Street. aged 58 years."

Albany Morning Express 21 May 1874

"His disease was apoplexy. On Monday night he was stricken down with a fit while in his office and was at once conveyed for treatment to Mr. Woodwards. But medical aid was without avail. From a previous attack of the same disease, which took place about a year ago, it is thought he never fully recovered. His funeral will take place from the Methodist Church on Pearl Street tomorrow afternoon."

A reference in "History of the County of Albany" gives Woollett, William L, 2 May 1815 - 2 April 1874 and states that he left England at the age of nineteen to emigrate to America.

"William M. Woollett was born in Albany and after attending R.P.I. he went on to M.I.T. where he was awarded high honors at graduation in 1870. Back in Albany he joined his fathers practice, and assumed full charge of the office after his fathers death.

In his brief ten year career, William attracted national attention through the wide publication of his designs. He published two influential books - Villas and Cottages or Homes for All (1876) with plans, elevations and views of twelve villas and ten cottages, and Old Homes Made New (1878) showing modernisation of older houses to 1870's styles. A number of his designs for town houses, store fronts, cottages, villas (including one under construction in central new York State), and architectural details were included in A.J. Bicknell's Wooden and Brick Buildings With Details (1875), and two of his three houses on Englewood Place in Albany were published in the American Architect and Building News in 1879.

Although he probably designed a number of houses in Albany (especially in the Washington Park area, which was rapidly developing in the 1870's), the only known surviving building in the city by William Woollett is the Benjamin Wooster House (1 Englewood Place), an imposing free standing brick villa with a corner tower. Woollett was made a Fellow of the A.I.A. at the age of twenty five and died of consumption in 1880. At the time his Calvary Baptist Church was under construction on a prominent site on State Street next to the new State Capitol. The church was probably completed by Franklin H Janes, Woollett's partner who purchased the business. Woollett left his widow with a large family of small children to raise."

His obituary in "The Argus", Albany 10 Oct 1880, says he had five children, all boys, the eldest of whom is seven. An entry in "History of the County of Albany" says he died age thirty leaving four children. William Lee, the eldest moved to Los Angeles and his son, William Woollett "currently maintains an office there" (this information me be very out of date, Les). Another reference is also to four children.

"Following in his fathers footsteps William Lee Woollett studied architecture at MIT and after working for the Boston firm Fehmer and Page, he returned to Albany in 1896 to set up his own practice. In 1905, he was joined briefly by John W. Woollett, one of his brothers, who was also an architect. After the fire and earthquake in San Francisco, William Lee went out to investigate the prospects of starting an office there in 1909. He stayed in California and later gained considerable recognition for his State Armories in San Francisco and Los Angeles, numerous schools, office buildings, theaters and houses as well as the Hollywood Bowl." William Lee Woollett's son, William Woollett, and grandson Joseph L. continue to practice in California. 


(Please Note:  This information is certainly very out of date, Les)


 This page last updated 19th June 2004