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William Swain

William Swain, Architect [1856-1934]

William Swain [†] was born in England in 1856. At the age of 18, he emigrated to the United States and eventually settled in Duluth, Minnesota. In Duluth, Swain took up work as a carpenter. He excelled at his work and soon became an independent contractor, constructing many fine buildings in the city. Ever aspiring to greater deeds, Swain began a diligent ten-year study of architecture, which increasingly captured his interest and formed the foundation for his long career in the field. In 1891, Swain and his life partner Penelope Bates Swain moved to the town of Pullman, Washington, where his skill as an architect and his devotion to public service combined to make him one of the town's most esteemed residents.

During the 1890s Pullman was a town filled with activity and a sense of optimism. In 1890 the town was still rebuilding after a devastating fire destroyed downtown area buildings. In 1891, the State Legislature chose Pullman as the site of the state's first land-grant college. Classes at the "State Agricultural College and School of Science" began the following year. After a tumultuous first year, Enoch A. Bryan was chosen as president, and under his leadership the college steadily grew to become a respected institution of learning. The fate of Pullman was tied to the college, and thus it was a bustle of construction and economic activity as residents strove to make their town a suitable host. It was in this atmosphere that Swain began his career as an architect in Pullman. He designed numerous commercial and residential structures throughout Whitman County, including the Pullman High School (ca. 1892), the Pullman City Hall (1882), and the famous Artesian Hotel (ca. 1893). All of these structures were central to life in early Pullman and all were noted for their architectural design and integrity. Unfortunately all three of these prominent structures have been either demolished or destroyed by fire.

Of special significance is Swain's design of the local United Presbyterian Church. President Bryan secured community and monetary support for the construction of the church to serve the growing number of Presbyterians in Pullman. Bryan hired Swain to design the structure and it was completed in 1899. However, this wood-frame structure was soon outgrown by the local congregation and Bryan again took the initiative, contracting Swain to design a new church building. Completed in 1914, the new church, which incorporated parts of the old structure, was an architectural masterpiece. The massive Romanesque Revival church was hailed as being "... one of the best pieces of its style of architecture in Washington."

† Liza R. Rognas with Brian Hahn, Everett Roscoe and Andrea Sabo, Washington State University Department of History, William Swain House, Whitman County, Washington, nomination document, 1993, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.