Charles Follen McKim was born August 24, 1847, in Isabella Furnace,
Pennsylvania. His father, James M. McKim, was a Presbyterian clergyman
and was also a leading activist for the abolitionist cause. Mr. McKim
was overseas when Sarah McKim, his wife, was visiting her sister, whose
husband owned and operated Isabella Furnace. Charles McKim had a
sister Lucy, who was five years older and an adopted sister named
Annie. Later in his life, his religion and family, especially his
father, had a positive impact on his ambitions and style.
At the age of ten, Charles McKim was sent to Theodore D. Weld School
in New Jersey and then attended a Philadelphia public school for three
years. When he was 16, Charles decided to go on a walking tour of
Gettysburg with some of his friends. He then moved on in 1866 to study
at the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard University for a year.
After discovering his interest in architecture he traveled to Paris to
study at the École des Beaux-Arts, atelier Daumet, for three years.
McKim spent the following two years traveling around Europe studying
architecture before returning back to the United States in 1872. Upon
his return he got a job working for Henry Hobson Richardson and his
Over the next seven years he worked for the Gambrill and Richardson
firm where he met future partners William Mead and Stanford White. In
1872, McKim opened his own office in New York and was joined by his
friend William Mead. In 1878, William Bigelow joined the firm but
retired one year later and was replaced by Stanford White. In 1879,
Charles McKim established the McKim, Mead and White architectural firm.
The focus of these three architects was to convey a national style by
using geometrics, symbolism, and classicism. McKim himself loved
residential and civil architecture and the use of red brick and white
limestone. He focused on a Colonial and Early Republican Era and
Italian Renaissance-like style. The majority of his work was college
and university buildings, libraries, banks, churches, hotels, and
private residences. Most of his projects were along the east coast in
New York City, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, but he did have other
projects, such as in Illinois and Oregon.
For the first ten years, the firm was working solely on private
residences and summer cottages. As McKim and his firm began to gain
some recognition, they were called on for larger more involved plans.
McKim’s first major project was the Newport Casino in 1881. From then
on he was requested to help design many large and prominent projects,
such as the Portland Hotel in Oregon and the Agricultural building at
Chicago’s World Fair. The firm of McKim, Mead and White became the
largest and most influential architectural office in America between
the years of 1879-1912. They employed more than 100 personnel and
became the model for modern architecture, creating standards for
generations to come.
Among some of their larger projects were the Boston Public Library,
Morgan Library, the Rhode Island State Capitol, and the Pennsylvania
Station. In New York, McKim designed the original Madison Square
Garden, the original plan for Columbia College (now Columbia
University), and many University clubs in which he became a member. He
did a lot of work with other major universities and colleges, such as
Amherst, Bowdoin, Brown, Cornell, Harvard, Hartford, New York
University, Princeton, the University of Illinois, and the University
of Virginia. He designed buildings, including laboratories and
observatories, libraries, gates, and helped to establish a traveling
scholarship in the architecture program at Columbia. His works conveyed
an Italian architectural style. Paul Goldberger of the New York Times
commemorates this style 78 years later in his 1987 article, “A Baker’s
Dozen of New York’s Urban Masterpieces,” by saying, “Charles McKim and
so many of his contemporaries, were able to put modern buildings into
historical garb and make the whole thing seem right at home.” McKim had a
way of expressing the national style of renaissance and making it fit
wherever his design was located.
In 1895 the American Academy in Rome, Italy, that McKim had been
working on for two years was finally finished and opened. Two years
after, he was elected president of the Academy. Subsequently, in 1900
he was awarded the royal gold medal at the Paris Exhibition for his
contributions to architecture. Three years later he received the King’s
Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects for his work as
well. After his death in 1909, the American Institute of Architects
(AIA) awarded him its gold medal for his well-known design and his role
as President of the AIA since 1902. Along with his election as
president of the AIA, he was part of the Architectural League, the
Society of Mural Painters, the National Academy of Design, the
Municipal Art Society, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American
Fine Arts Society. One of his greatest honors was being by President
Roosevelt to design renovations for the White House. Throughout his 30
plus years of work he received many awards and recognition from
significant people all over the world.
Charles McKim died on September 14, 1909, in St. James, New York,
subsequent to suffering a nervous breakdown and ill health after
longtime partner Stanford White was murdered. In 1922 a memorial to
honor McKim’s work and his founding of the American Academy in Rome
was planned by alumni members of the American Institution of Architects.
In addition, J.D. Rockefeller Jr. gave a generous $200,000 gift to the
American Academy in Rome. According to the New York Times
article, “Art Societies Pay Tribute to M’Kim,” at a memorial ceremony
the ex-ambassador of the Court of St. James, Joseph H. Choate, referred
to McKim as “the long recognized leader in his profession.” He also
stated that his qualities of simplicity and beauty came from his Quaker
parents and the Quaker way of life. As for the firm, his longtime
partner William R. Mead continued working there until his retirement in
- Boston Public Library. Boston, Massachusetts: 1887-1895
- Agriculture Building at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. Chicago: Illinois 1890-1893
- The Original Madison Square Garden. Madison Avenue, New York City, NY: 1891
- American Academy. Rome, Italy: 1895
- Rhode Island State Capital. Providence, Rhode Island: 1895-1903
- University Club, Madison Avenue. New York City, NY: 1900
- Improvements to the White House. Washington, DC: 1902
- The Original Columbia College Campus Plan. New York: 1904
- Morgan Library. New York: 1906
- Pennsylvania Station. Southampton, New York: 1904-1910
- “Art Societies Pay Tribute to M’Kim.” New York Times (24 Nov. 1909): 8.
- Dolkart, Andrew S. “The Architecture and Development of New York City.” Key Figures, Columbia University.
2006. Columbia University. 24 Nov. 2006.
- “Encyclopedia of World Biography on Charles Follen McKim.” Book Rags. 2005. Encyclopedia of World Biography. 22 Nov. 2006. <http://www.bookrags.com/Charles_Follen_McKim>.
- Goldberger, Paul. “A Baker’s Dozen of New York City’s Urban Masterpieces.” New York Times (31 July 1987): C1.
- Matthews, Kevin. “McKim, Mead and White.” Artifice, Inc.
2006. 20 Sept. 2006. <http://www.greatbuildings.com/architects/
- “McKim, Charles Follen.” HighBeam Encyclopedia. 2006. Columbia University. 24 Nov. 2006. <http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-mck1im-c1h.html>.
- “Memorial to Charles F. McKim Planned by American
Architects; Founder of American Academy in Rome to Be
Honored by Members of the Alumni—a $200,000 Gift by John D.
Rockefeller Jr.” New York Times (9 July 1922): 96.
- Moore, Charles. The Life and Times of Charles Follen McKim. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1929.
- Roth, Leland M. McKim, Mead and White, Architects. 1st ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1983.
- White, Samuel G. “Buffalo as an Architectural Museum: McKim, Mead and White in Buffalo.” The Buffalo Free-Net. 1988. 20 Sept. 2006. <http://freenet.buffalo.edu/bah/a/archs/mck/>.
- White, Samuel G. “Stanford White in Saint James, New York -
Houses by Architectural Firm McKim, Mead and White Founded in
1879.” Find Articles. July 1998. LookSmart, Ltd. 20 Sept.
- Wilson, Richard G. Charles F. McKim and the Development For the American Renaissance: a Study in Architecture and Culture. Vol. 1-4. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1984.
For More Information:
On these websites, one can find pictures of Charles McKim’s American Academy in Rome and other projects by him and the firm.
- <http://www.nyc-architecture.com/ARCH/ARCH- McKimMeadandWhite.htm>
This biography was prepared by Caitlin Quattrocchi, Fall 2006.