Born in Boston in 1832, Henry Van Brunt attended Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard College in 1854.
In the 1860s Van Brunt joined with MIT Architecture Dean William Ware to establish the architectural firm of Ware & Van Brunt. The firm designed many buildings in the Boston area to 1881, generally in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, including the Chapel at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge and the Cambridge Public Library. His design for Harvard's Memorial Hall is said to be “one of the greatest examples of Ruskinian Gothic architecture outside of England."
Van Brunt later moved to Kansas City, where he won commissions to design many railway stations for the Union Pacific Railroad and civic buildings across the midwest. In 1893 he designed the Electricity Building and Wyoming Building for the Chicago World Exposition.
In 1899 Van Brunt served as President of the AIA.