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Reviewed by:
  • Gideon Shryockby Winfrey P. Blackburn and R. Scott Gill
  • Cristina Carbone
Gideon Shryock His Life and Architecture, 1802–1880Winfrey P. Blackburn and R. Scott Gill Louisville, KY: Butler Books, 2021. 241 pp. ISBN: 9781953058348 (hardcover), $75.00.

Gideon Shryock: His Life and Architecture, 1802–1880makes a valuable contribution to the history of American architecture. Authors Winfrey P. Blackburn and R. Scott Gill have written the first book-length monograph on the Kentucky-born architect and have rightfully placed Shryock in the architectural lineage of Benjamin Henry Latrobe and William Strickland. His two statehouses, in Frankfort, Kentucky (1827–30) and Little Rock, Arkansas (1832–42) helped Greek Revival become known as the American national style

This is the third collaboration and the most ambitious for the writers. Blackburn, a native of Frankfort, is an attorney in Louisville with a penchant for Kentucky architecture. Gill has advanced degrees in architecture and architectural history. Blackburn and Gill's previous publications include Kentucky Houses of Stratton Hammon(2007) and Country Houses of Louisville(2011), both published by Butler Books.

Gideon Shryockis part of a larger, ongoing reassessment of American architectural history, establishing how the Greek Revival style served as the key visual component of nation building and of the architects who were vital to it being used as a marker of modern civilization and democracy along the Eastern Seaboard and in the ever-expanding west. Gideon Shryocktakes its place alongside Jean H. Baker's Building America: The Life of Benjamin Henry Latrobe(New York: Oxford University Press, 2020); Robert Douglass Russell's William Strickland and the Creation of an American Architecture(Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2017); and John Morrill Bryan's Robert Mills: America's First Architect(New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001).

While this beautifully designed and sumptuously illustrated book is aimed at the interested but not specialist audience, it is a thoroughly researched compendium of the life and work of Kentucky's first architect. Shryock's importance to the architecture of Kentucky far exceeds his modest output of thirteen buildings, over half of which are still standing. Blackburn and Gill have organized their book into halves, with the architectural case studies following a well-presented biography that places Shryock firmly within the political and architectural milieu of the still new nation and even newer state of Kentucky.

In 1823, Lexington builder Matthias Shryock used his connections to secure his twenty-year-old son an apprenticeship with architect William Strickland, then at work on the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. Under Strickland's tutelage, Shryock learned to fuse the severity of archeologically correct Greek temple exteriors with the dynamic interiors of Roman baths and domus, as Strickland had learned from Benjamin Henry Latrobe, whose 1798 Bank of Pennsylvania had ushered in the Greek Revival style. The line from Latrobe through Strickland leads directly to Shryock, who stayed with Strickland for a [End Page 78]year, returning to Kentucky and winning the state's most prestigious competition, for a new Capitol building in Frankfort.

Shryock was educated as a builder-architect as were so many men, primarily through apprenticeships and secondarily by close study of what are known as pattern books—volumes of precisely rendered and measured structures and architectural details that could be copied by builders and craftsmen no matter how distant from metropolitan centers such as Philadelphia.

While examining the widespread reliance on pattern books, the authors note that like Thomas Jefferson, Strickland owned, and must have shared, copies of James "Athenian" Stuart and Nicholas Revett's Antiquities of Athens(1762–1816) and that Matthias Shryock owned a copy of Asher Benjamin's The Builder's Assistant(1800) and passed it along to his son Gideon.

Begun when he was twenty-five years old, Shryock's Old State Capitol of 1827–30 was the first purely Greek style building west of the Alleghenies. The blind hexastyle front was modeled on the Temple of Athena Polias at Priene, which Shryock could only have known from a pattern book and, as such, echoes the reliance on archeological precedent that marks the work of Latrobe and Strickland. The severity of the Capitol's exterior...