Handmade (Part 2): Men of Stone

In 1859 Andrew Gilchrist was born in Scotland.

There Andrew and his brother George learned the craft of stonemasonry. Just as blacksmiths (see Part 1) worked by hand, with hammer and anvil, without the aid of modern power tools, stonemasons worked with mallet and chisel.

In 1882 the brothers Gilchrist packed their mallets and chisels and migrated to the United States, arriving in Fort Worth by 1888.

Andrew was one of the stonemasons who handbuilt St. Patrick Cathedral, whose cornerstone was laid in 1889. These clips from that year indicate some of the choices considered before construction began. Broken ashlar is a stonework pattern in which stones of unequal sizes are fitted together but not in courses. Range work is a stonework pattern in which squared stones are laid in courses, each of which is of even height throughout the length of the wall.

Construction of St. Patrick’s was completed in 1892.

Andrew Gilchrist was a member of Broadway Presbyterian Church, as was blacksmith Michael Eitelman (see Part 1). Andrew Gilchrist married Michael’s daughter Emma in 1895.

Andrew also was a member of Clan MacDonald of the Benevolent Order of Scottish Clans during the golden age of fraternal lodges.

In 1899 the brothers Gilchrist set aside mallet and chisel and picked up knife and fork to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the birth of poet Robert Burns with a traditional Scots feast.

The top photo shows Andrew’s construction crew at work on a church. The building is not identified, but the words “First Baptist” can be made out above one doorway. But the building is not Fort Worth’s First Baptist Church of 1886 or 1913. However, the building does bear a strong resemblance to Houston’s First Baptist Church (bottom), which was built in 1904 (for $40,000) after the previous building was leveled in the hurricane of 1900.

This photo shows Gilchrist’s crew of stonemasons at work in an empty lot at 808 Houston Street. (Across the street can be seen the Dundee Building, built no later than 1894 by the Scottish syndicate of Robert Fleming, grandfather of James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Fort Worth National Bank replaced the Dundee Building in 1952.) Robertson & Witten undertaking parlor was next door at 806 Houston. Notice the sections of stone dentil molding scattered around the work site. These craftsmen, working with just wooden mallets and chisels, carved the molding with such precision that it appears to have been cut with a saw.

In about 1909 stonemason Andrew Gilchrist built this house on College Avenue in Fairmount for  father-in-law Michael Eitelman. But Gilchrist built this house of concrete blocks that simulate rusticated stone.

Andrew also carved the two pyramid-shaped stone hitching posts and the carriage step with “Eitelman” carved on it.

gilchrist obit 1912In 1912 Andrew Gilchrist died in the house that he handmade.

(Thanks to Jay Eitelman for photos and information about his family’s men of steel and stone.)

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3 Responses to Handmade (Part 2): Men of Stone

  1. Dennis Henderson says:

    It was fun to see my great grandfather, J.G. Henderson, in one of the articles

  2. John Shiflet says:

    Scottish and (mainly German and other European) immigrant stonemasons were indispensable in 19th and early 20th century architecture. Without them, we would not have the enduring landmarks of stone still standing. America in the 19th century had an abundance of cheap lumber from its virgin forests but stone was still the material of choice for monumental edifices. It is the stone versions which seem to have stood the test of time better than their frame counterparts. We can still appreciate the contributions of Scottish stone masons.

    • hometown says:

      Those two posts–the blacksmiths and the stonemasons–were two of my recent favorites to work up, although they took a lot of digging. A relative supplied me with great photos. What those masons could do with simple tools is just amazing.

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