Warren County Historical Society Presents …

The Digital Version “REWIND”

November 1, 2015

Cram, Ralph 001
Architect Ralph Adams Cram

Outstanding Architect’s Work Found

in Warren County

     Ralph Adams Cram, architect and writer, changed the world of architecture as an ardent advocate and authority on English and French Gothic styles.  He became a prolific and influential architect of collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings, in the Gothic Revival style. He also wrote many scholarly books on architecture, aesthetics and sociology.

     Cram was born on December 16, 1863 in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, the son of Rev. William Augustine and Sarah Elizabeth Cram.  He received an education at Augusta, Hampton Falls, Westford Academy and Exeter.

     At age 18 in 1881, Ralph Cram moved to Boston and worked for five years in the architectural office of Rotch and Tilden.  He then left for Rome to study classical architecture.  At a Christmas Eve mass he experienced a conversion, and for the rest of his life he practiced as a fervent Anglo-Catholic who identified as High Church Anglican.

     In 1900, Ralph Cram married Elizabeth Carrington Read at New Bedford, Massachusetts.  She was the daughter of Clement Carrington Read who served as a captain in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

     Elizabeth and Ralph had three children – Mary Carrington Cram, Ralph Wentworth Cram, and Elizabeth Strudwich Cram.  The family is buried in Sudbury, Massachusetts in the churchyard of St. Elizabeth’s Chapel.  Cram was responsible for the design and building of the chapel, so it is a fitting final resting place for he and his family.

Cram designed this Massachusetts chapel and he and his family are buried in the chapel's graveyard.

Cram designed this Massachusetts chapel and he and his family are buried in the chapel’s graveyard.

     In Boston, Cram started his own architectural business in 1889 with a partner.  The business was called ‘Cram and Wentworth.’  They landed four or five church commissions before Bertram Goodhue joined them in 1892, and the new firm was ‘Cram, Wentworth and Goodhue.’  Goodhue brought an award-winning commission in Dallas (never built) and his brilliant drafting skills to the Boston office.

     Partner Wentworth died in 1897 and the firm became ‘Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson’ to include the draftsman, Frank Ferguson.  Cram and Goodhue complemented each other at first, but eventually they began to submit two differing proposals for the same work.  The firm won the design for the chapel at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1902, a milestone in their career.

Obtaining the design of this chapel helped establish Cram as tops in his field.

Obtaining the design of this chapel helped establish Cram as tops in his field.

     They set up a New York office, leaving Cram in Boston.

     Cram’s acceptance of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine commission (in Goodhue’s territory) in 1911 heightened the tension between the two. Architectural historians attribute their projects to one partner or the other based on style or location. The Gothic Revival Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan was designed by both of them in 1914.  It was the last example of their work together.

     Goodhue began his solo career in 1913 while Cram and Ferguson continued with major church and college commissions through the 1930s.  Some of their particular work includes the original campus of Rice University of Houston, Texas as well as the library and city hall of that city.

     Now a leading proponent of Gothic Revival architecture in general and Collegiate Gothic in particular, Cram is most closely tied with Princeton University where he served as supervising architect from 1907 to 1929, during major construction.  Princeton awarded Cram a Doctor of Letters for his achievements there.

     For seven years Cram headed the Architectural Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  As a public figure in the 1920s, he was described by the New York Times as “one of the most prominent Episcopalian laymen in the country.”

     In 1932 he designed Deloge Chapel in St. Louis which was declared a landmark in 1983 by the Missouri Historical Society.   In 1938 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate Academician.

     As an author, lecturer and architect, Cram held the view that the Renaissance had been an unfortunate detour for western culture.  He argued that authentic development could come only by returning to Gothic sources for inspiration.  Critics who did not agree with his viewpoint came to neglect his work.

     This critical neglect of Cram’s work was a phenomenon which distorted the study of America’s modern architectural history.   Peter Cormack, director of London’s William Morris Gallery, said, “Cram deserves the same kind of international and domestic recognition given to his contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright.”

     Cram is honored together with architect Richard Upjohn and artist John LaFarge on December 16, as a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA).

     Cram’s works include some 75 buildings, and two of these can be found in Warren County:  First Presbyterian Church of Glens Falls, NY (1928) and St. Mary’s Academy, Glens Falls, NY (1932).

The Presbyterian Church on Glen Street was his design.

The Presbyterian Church on Glen Street was his design.

     It is believed that Louis Fiske Hyde, a contemporary of Cram, may have been influential in bringing him to Glens Falls. He was the chairman of the building committee when the Presbyterian Church was built.

At one time, teaching all grades, elementary through High school, it had a population of 1,400 and was the largest parochial school in the country.

At one time, teaching all grades, elementary through high school, St. Mary’s school had a population of 1,400 and was the largest parochial school in the country.

     Ralph Adams Cram died on September 22, 1942 at the age of 78 in Boston.

Selected works of note by Ralph Adams Cram

St. Thomas’ Church (New York City)

Euclid Avenue Presbyterian Church (Cleveland)

First Baptist Church (Pittsburgh)

US Military Academy Chapel (West Point)

Cathedral of St. John the Divine (New York City)

Princeton University, graduate college and chapel

Sweet Briar College buildings 1906-1928

Lucius Beebe Memorial Library (Wakefield, MA, 1922)

Doheny Library University of Southern California, (Los Angeles, 1931)

Bell Tower Dwight Morrow High School (Englewood, NJ, 1932)

US Post Office, (Boston, 1932)

Buildings at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial (France, 1937)

House of Rising Sun (Fall River, MA)


Of Local Interest:

First Presbyterian Church, Glens Falls, NY at 402-410 Glen Street. Built in 1927 of substantial stone, Cram & Ferguson, architects, Edward F Miner Building Co., added to National Register of Historic Places, September 29, 1984,

St. Mary’s – St. Alphonsus Regional Catholic School, previously St. Mary’s Academy, a private Roman Catholic elementary, middle and high school in Glens Falls.  It is the oldest parochial school in the area.  Children of any faith may attend.  The Great Hall features a 2 story stained glass window, a mini-chapel where confession, adoration and other ceremonies are held.  It was added to National Register of Historic Places on September 29, 1984.

 U.S. Military Academy Chapel at West Point sits on a high point overlooking the Hudson River in Orange County, 50 miles north of New York City.  The Academy is a national landmark and home to scores of historic sites, buildings and monuments.  It is a popular tourist destination with a large visitor center and the oldest museum in the United States Army. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, and designated a national Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960.

 The Warren County Historical Society Logo newly adopted January 2015. Design by www.orangeolive.com. Copyright 2015 Warren County Historical Society, Queensbury, NY.

The article on Ralph Adams Cram was prepared by Dr. Marilyn Van Dyke for the Warren County Historical Society.


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