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Architect Biographies

Minifie, William

1805–1880

William Minifie is the architect of only three known buildings, all in the Greek Revival style.

One is the Front Street theatre in 1837 (an important theatre that suffered a tragic fire just after Christmas 1897 and was finally torn down in 1904). It was the only building he included in an 1878 autobiography.

Two elegant churches in the Grecian style still stand on S. Broadway, Presbyterian (1844) on the west side at Gough Street, and Methodist Episcopal (1866) on the east side between Gough and Pratt Streets. He was unsuccessful in securing the commission for the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church in 1844, a commission that went to Robert Carey Long Jr. for the building which still stands at Franklin & Cathedral Streets.

Minifie’s professional life predated the separation of the architectural and builders’ professions. In 1837, he announced himself as an architect and builder, advertising as such in the Baltimore Sun in 1841. Perhaps he was better known as an educator, teaching drawing and design in Baltimore Central High School by 1845. He was principal of the Maryland Institute (now MICA) for many years beginning in 1849, also serving as professor of design and drawing.

In 1849, he published his Text Book of Geometrical Drawing, Perspective & Shadows, shortly thereafter adding Theory & Application of Color, together amply illustrated with upwards of 50 steel engravings, widely used in schools both in America and the United Kingdom. He belonged to numerous mechanical and scientific societies including the Maryland Academy of Science & Literature, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Allston Association.

In 1847, he purchased a book and stationery store at 114 W. Baltimore Street (now 304 E. Baltimore Street), adding drawing instruments and materials, and artists’ materials. He remained at that location until 1876 when he moved to 5 N. Charles Street (now 3 N. Charles Street) with his eldest son James, his partner since 1868.

William Minifie was born in 1805 in Devonshire, England, the son of Elizabeth (Hyne) and James Minifie. He was raised in the Church of England and well educated in Totnes, Devonshire.

He married Mary W. White of Torquay, Devonshire, in 1828, sailing to Baltimore very soon thereafter from London. He returned to England in 1830 to bring his mother and sister Ann to Baltimore. In 1830 and 1834, he and Mary traveled extensively in America, to Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, New York City and State, Boston, Philadelphia and many cities along the way, recording architectural observations as well as population, their varied means of transportation, accommodations and food. His 1878 autobiography and his most interesting diary of their 1830s travels were published in the Maryland Historical Magazine, Winter 1983.

He became a naturalized citizen in 1833. He described himself as an outspoken Union man in the Civil War.

Mary and William Minifie both died in 1880, she in June and he in October. They and many descendants are buried in Green Mount Cemetery in lot C-56

By James T. Wollon Jr., AIA, with research by John McGrain, Wayne Schaumburg and James Wollon; and thanks to the subject’s great grandson the late C. Herbert Baxley for William Minifie’s autobiography and travel diary in the Maryland Historical Magazine Winter 1983.

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