Saturday, February 26, 2011

Marshall County Architect: Jacob Ness

The Plymouth City Building, former First National Bank

In 1893 the Chicago World's Fair was "the" place to be to see the latest styles, technology, and to sample world cultures. The architecture of the Columbian Exposition, the official name of the fair, was decidedly Neo-Classical though, looking back much more than looking forward. Architects of the Chicago School were outraged feeling as if the buildings constructed were false representations of an emerging world city. In fact many of the buildings were plaster facades, providing some irony to their claim.
Lauer Building, now the Marshall County Museum

So, what does the Chicago World's Fair have to do with architecture in Marshall County? Well, it wouldn't have had anything to do with Marshall County had it not been for Jacob Ness. Ness was an architect who trained in Chicago during the years leading up to the Exposition. While no records have been found indicating who Ness worked for or trained with, the influence of the Exposition undoubtedly shaped his creative mind.

Pennsylvania Depot, Plymouth

Ness came to Plymouth before the turn of the century, and to his good fortune, at the cusp of a major building boom in the city. Ness' obituary made the claim that nearly half of the buildings lining Michigan Street in downtown Plymouth were designed by Jacob Ness. If not half, certainly some of the most austere. The city building, museum, and the building Centier Bank now occupies are all creations by Jacob Ness and are located at three of the four corners of the downtown's main intersection. All three were constructed in the Neo-Classical style with the city building adhering the most to Classical Greek architecture. Ness is responsible for the multitude of limestone building facades in the downtown as well as the brick Rialto Theater, his last commission in 1930. A total of 11 buildings can be attributed to Ness in the downtown. But his work was seen beyond the downtown and included several churches, namely St. Thomas Episcopal, First United Methodist, and Trinity Methodist.

LaPaz School

Ness was also responsible for the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot which was a fairly clean break from his preferred Neo-Classical style. Recently I was reminded of Ness' work when I stumbled upon his name engraved into the cornerstone of the former LaPaz school, constructed in 1908. The cornerstone is part of the memorial in front of the LaPaz fire station where the school once stood. The school also was a break from the Neo-Classical style, being designed rather in the Queen Anne style. It also made me realize that Ness' work stretched well beyond main street in Plymouth, though maintaining a presence along the old Michigan Road.

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