High and Mighty: A Comparative Analysis of the Wood-Framed Steeples of John McArthur, Jr.

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Presbyterian church
round arched style
rundbogenstil armature frame
Historic Preservation and Conservation
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Boyer, Holly

In order to understand this early period of John McArthur, Jr.’s career, this thesis examines the ideological principles, architectural professionalism and influences, and structural experimentation and performance of two remarkably tall wood-framed steeples designed by McArthur. Understanding these steeple designs perhaps sheds light on what compelled him, later in his career, to repeatedly set out to design structures that would be the highest in their cities or country. John McArthur, Jr.'s designs for the steeples of two Presbyterian churches, while they were stylistically representative of many churches of the Round-Arched style built during that period, they were remarkably high. Their unusual height, particularly Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, rearing up to 248 feet, is the result of a confluence of factors. They represent the result of competition among ambitious church congregations, competition among architects in an emerging profession, and McArthur’s own structural confidence. Through this comparative analysis, a picture of McArthur at this early period of his career emerges. McArthur designed these very tall wood-framed structures by applying his knowledge of materials gained from a decade working in the carpentry trade. Combined with his knowledge of wood and carpentry, McArthur also applied intuition, creating structures that were experimental in multiple ways, ultimately leading him to utilize an internal armature framing system. This system had consequences, both good and bad, for the performance and outcomes of both steeples. This thesis serves to provide a clearer comprehension of McArthur’s wood-framed steeples in the context of mid-nineteenth century steeple design and construction.

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Suggested Citation: Boyer, Holly (2019). High and Mighty: A Comparative Analysis of the Wood-Framed Steeples of John McArthur, Jr. (Masters Thesis). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.
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