Henry Van Brunt

Several Lowell buildings were designed by architects of national reputation and the Hildreth Building’s, Van Brunt & Howe of Boston, were among the more influential of their era.

Henry Van Brunt (1832-1903) graduated from Harvard in 1854 and after apprenticing, worked with the Richard Morris Hunt, America’s preeminent 19th century architect, in New York City.  In the 1860s Van Brunt and fellow Harvard graduate William Robert Ware established the architectural firm of Ware & Van Brunt. The firm produced designs for many buildings in the Boston area, including Harvard University's Memorial Hall, "said to be one of the greatest examples of Ruskinian Gothic architecture outside of England."

In 1881 Van Brunt became head of the new MIT architecture department and his partnership with Ware dissolved and Van Brunt, along with former employee Frank Howe, established the architectural firm of Van Brunt & Howe.   The Hildreth Building (1884) at 45 Merrimack Street appears to be among Van Brunt & Howe’s major commercial design efforts and is Lowell’s most outstanding Queen Anne style commercial building. The building was as prominent in location as it was in design, sited at the foot of Central Street for all to see for several blocks distant. The façade is punctuated with asymmetrically placed oriel windows, a variety of window designs, small scale classical details, and with a diversity of surface texture, colors, and materials including brick, granite, brownstone, and metal, all characteristic of the Queen Anne style.

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Van Brunt & Howe moved their office to Kansas City in 1885 to primarily design for the Union Pacific Railroad. They also designed several buildings for the St. Louis Exposition and the Chicago World’s Fair including the Electricity Building (1893).  Van Brunt was elected president of the American Institute of Architects in 1899.