Sylvester C. (S. C.) Hotchkiss (1842–1909)
Sylvester C. (S. C.) Hotchkiss was a northern architect turned Monticello (Drew County) resident who designed a number of houses and buildings in southern Arkansas. Hotchkiss’s relocation to Monticello distinguished the community from other small towns of the period for having a resident architect. Many of his structures are still standing in the twenty-first century, and two are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
S. C. Hotchkiss (whose middle name was likely Clifford) was born on January 29, 1842, in Homer, Michigan, to Sylvester Wolcott Hotchkiss and Mary Hotchkiss. Hotchkiss spent his childhood in Michigan and New York before the family moved to Chicago around 1854. He graduated in 1857 from Sloan Commercial College and began working with a railroad. An enthusiast of architecture, Hotchkiss apprenticed himself to multiple Chicago architects to learn the trade.
In 1862, Hotchkiss volunteered his services during the Civil War to the Chicago Board of Trade Light Artillery Battery (a.k.a. Stokes’ Independent Battery), which saw action in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. Due to the cold, damp weather and unsanitary conditions, many Union and Confederate soldiers became ill following the Battle of Stones River. Among the afflicted was Hotchkiss, who contracted typhoid fever. For the duration of the war, he was a recurrent hospital patient. Later in life, Hotchkiss blamed his chronic health problems on the mercury treatments he received at Stones River.
Following his honorable discharge in 1865, Hotchkiss married Margaret Tatch, and the new couple moved to Chicago. In the 1870s, Margaret Hotchkiss gave birth to two sons, Charles and Walter Clifford. Charles died in infancy. From the late 1860s to the late 1880s, the Hotchkiss family relocated four times across Missouri and Illinois, where Hotchkiss was variously employed as a carpenter, architect, and contractor.
In 1888, Hotchkiss moved to Arkansas, where he resided in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), Warren (Bradley County), and Arkadelphia (Clark County) before establishing himself in Monticello. In Pine Bluff, Hotchkiss entered a brief business partnership with Robert Haynes McFadden, a Confederate veteran who also fought at the Battle of Stones River. In late 1896, Hotchkiss settled in Monticello and secured a major contract to build the Joe Lee Allen House, a Queen Anne–style residence with a Neo-Classical front porch. By the turn of the century, construction in Monticello surged, and Hotchkiss, the town’s sole architect, was well positioned to supply this demand.
Hotchkiss stated that he constructed hundreds of structures in the South. Though the total number remains unknown, he completed a minimum of thirteen buildings in Monticello, two in Lake Village (Chicot County), and one in Hamburg (Ashley County). Two of the Monticello residences (the Frank H. Scott House and R. E. Harrill-Wallick House) were eventually demolished. Two additional facilities (Monticello High School’s previous facility and Monticello’s former Church of Christ, Scientist) were designed by Hotchkiss but posthumously finished by other architects.
Two of Hotchkiss’s Monticello structures (the Lambert House and his own residence) were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hotchkiss House (1902) was constructed in the Queen Anne style and incorporated diverse architectural elements. According to local legend, Hotchkiss designed his home to promote his craftsmanship. Like many of his buildings, the Lambert House (1905) incorporated Eastlake-style characteristics. In 1902, Hotchkiss was awarded a contract to repair the woodwork of the Drew County Courthouse. By 1907, Hotchkiss was marketing himself as the “Practical Southern Architect and Builder” uniquely qualified to design houses suited for the region’s hot summers.
Hotchkiss’s final years were plagued by hardship. In 1904, he began receiving a modest disability pension for his chronic health issues. Since he was unable to work for months at a time, his deteriorating physical condition also became a financial burden. In 1907, Hotchkiss’s workshop was severely damaged by a nearby barn fire. In late 1908, Hotchkiss developed a throat infection and lost his voice. On January 11, 1909, he died from an undetermined cause. Hotchkiss was buried in Monticello’s Oakland Cemetery, the sole Union soldier of sixty-six Civil War veterans interred there.
For additional information:
Holley, Donald. “S. C. Hotchkiss: The Practical Southern Architect.” Drew County Historical Journal 17 (2002): 29–40.
———. “Sylvester C. Hotchkiss: Monticello Architect.” Drew County Historical Journal 1 (1986): 3–23.
“Local Items.” The Monticellonian, July 11, 1902.
“Local Items.” The Monticellonian, April 18, 1907.
A. Blake Denton
University of Arkansas at Monticello
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