Asher Benjamin

Asher Benjamin (1773-1845) paved an unusual path for himself from New England carpenter to noted architect and author of seven popular architectural pattern books.

Born and raised in Connecticut, Benjamin apprenticed under a local builder and became so respected for his carpentry skills that he won the commission to design and build a circular staircase inside the Connecticut State House in 1795. Soon thereafter he began to transcribe house designs and carpentry details based on his field experience, and in 1797 he issued The Country Builder’s Assistant, the first architectural pattern book authored and published in America. The book’s scaled illustrations, instructions for drawing and crafting each detail, and condensed lessons in architectural history empowered its readers to build fashionably and economically without professional architects on hand. This approach proved wildly popular, leading Benjamin to author six successive books along similar lines over the course of his life.

Benjamin moved to Boston early in the nineteenth century and opened his own practice as a housewright and designer. His design approach mimicked larger American and English trends, gradually shifting from the simple volumes and gentle details of the Federal period to the more stoic classicism of the Greek Revival. His early Boston commissions include Old West Church and Charles Street Meeting House (originally Third Baptist Church), and many Bostonians have attended the theatre in Benjamin’s Charles Playhouse, originally built as the Fifth Universalist Church. Benjamin’s impact is visible in houses, churches, and architectural details throughout New England where, either directly or through his books, he brought architectural knowledge to patrons and local builders alike.

Source: Image attributed to Chester Harding - http://museums.fivecolleges.edu, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8952368