John Shelley Birch (1853-1940), Architect & Artist

From E Nebraska History
Jump to: navigation, search
Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska ca. 1888-1889; Salt Lake City, 1892-1918

DBA: John S. Birch

Johnbirchartistad 1w.jpg
Advertisement in The Nebraska State Journal, 1888.

John Shelley Birch was born in London, England in 1853 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1887, sailing from Liverpool on the steamship "Catalonia." He was listed as an architect on his arrival in Boston.[1][a] His Nebraska connections were early and brief during his time in America. He was a draftsman for architect Sidney Smith in Omaha in 1888 and that same year advertised as a watercolor artist in Lincoln, with "Buildings a Specialty." He was listed there as an architect in 1889, perhaps sharing an office with architect William S. Gray.[c] By 1892, he was working as a draftsman for R. K. A. Kletting in Salt Lake City, where he resided for most of the next quarter century. He was with Kletting in 1892 and 1893, then by 1895 he was working as a draftsman in Portland, Oregon for architect S. E. Maxon. Maxon had relocated from Omaha to Portland around 1894 and represents Birch's final, albeit indirect, Nebraska connection.[6][d] Birch returned to Salt Lake City and Kletting's office from 1896-1897, then in 1898 and 1899 was a draftsman for Salt Lake City architect W. E. Ware. From 1900 until 1907, he was draftsman for Carl M. Neuhausen until the latter's death, then Birch finally began practicing as an architect by 1908. He had a series of partners in Salt Lake City during the next decade, with projects including several Carnegie libraries throughout Utah.[5] He relocated to California in 1919 and applied for a passport (as "John Shelley Birch") to travel to England on "family business." He had naturalized as a U. S. citizen in Utah in 1903 but it appears he repatriated to England, where a "John S. Birch" died in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire in 1940 at age 86.[17]

This page is a contribution to the publication, Place Makers of Nebraska: The Architects. See the Format and contents of Nebraska architect entries page for more information on the compilation and page organization.

Compiled Nebraska Directory Listings

Omaha, Nebraska, 1888; Lincoln, Nebraska, 1889

Educational & Professional Associations

1888: Watercolor Artist, Lincoln Nebraska.[2]

1888: Draughtsman for Sidney Smith, Omaha, Nebraska.[3][b]

1892-1893: Architectural draughtsman, Salt Lake City, for R. K. A. Kletting.[4]

1895: Draughtsman for S. E. Maxon, Portland, Oregon.[6][d]

1896-1897: Architectural draughtsman, Salt Lake City, for R. K. A. Kletting.[4]

1898-1899: Architectural draughtsman, Salt Lake City, for W. E. Ware.[4]

1900-1907: Architectural draughtsman, Salt Lake City, for Carl M. Neuhausen.[4][7][8][10][e][f]

1908-1918: architect, Salt Lake City, Utah.[4][5][9][12][h][i]

1910: founding member and treasurer, Utah Institute of Architecture (Utah Society of Architects).[13]

Buildings & Projects

Saint Mary's Catholic cathedral (dedicated 1909), Salt Lake City, Utah.[11][g]

House (1910), 336 South Eleventh East Street, Salt Lake City, Utah.[15]

Carnegie libraries in Manti (1910), Cedar City (1914), Richmond (1914), Ephraim (1914), Garland (1914), and Provo (1914), Utah.[5]

High School (1914), Roosevelt, Utah.[5]


Thanks to architectural historian Catherine Cramer, Tucson, Arizona for Reference #2.


a. Birch arrived in Boston Oct. 1, 1887 on the ship "Catalonia." His occupation was listed as "Architect."[1]

b. Sidney Smith was an English-born architect who practiced in Omaha from 1881 to 1893.

c. Both Birch and Gray were listed in the Lincoln city directory of 1889 as having offices at the Capitol Block, 109 S. 9th.

d. Birch was listed as a draughtsman for S. E. Maxon in the Portland, Oregon city directory of 1895. Stiles E. Maxon was an architect in Council Bluffs, Iowa (1886-7) and Omaha (1888-1893) before relocating to Portland. Birch advertised in American Architect and Building News in 1895: "Wanted. Position.--Expert general draughtsman disengaged. London and seven years' American experience. Color and pen perspectives. Locality immaterial if offer good. John S. Birch, Portland, Ore."[6]

e. John S. Birch was one of nine draftsmen who signed a petition in 1900 asking their employing architects in Salt Lake City for Saturday afternoons off for "out-of-door sketching." He was also second vice-president of the Salt Lake Sketch Club in 1900.[7][8]

f. A note in a Salt Lake City newspaper in 1901 reported that "John S. Birch of Architect Neuhausen's office" was toiling that summer "on his California ranch." Perhaps he was recuperating, as the note added "His friends in this city learn that Mr. Birch, by judicious nursing, has increased his weight to nearly 200 pounds."[10] Carl M. Neuhausen (1858-1907) was a prominent, German-born architect in Salt Lake City. See "Carl M. Neuhausen" in Wikipedia accessed March 8, 2018.

g. Mrs. C. M. Neuhausen wrote to a Salt Lake City newspaper in 1909 to claim credit for her late husband "and Mr. John S. Birch, his principal draughtsman" as the major designers of St. Mary's Catholic cathedral, recently dedicated. She added that Birch "is a specialist in church architecture, having received European training." She noted that Bernard Mecklenberg had been suggested as the architect of the church in a recent issue of the paper. By her account, "About two years ago Mr. Meklenberg was, I believe, engaged to render any architectural services requisite [for the church]], but for some time after that Architects Watkins and Birch were instructed to prepare the drawings for the principal entrances throughout the cathedral."[11]

h. Birch was 56 when he married 48-year-old Mary E. Youart in San Francisco. An announcement of their marriage in a Salt Lake City paper indicated they "have a large circle of friends in Salt Lake" and that "Mr. Birch is a well-known architect." They were preparing a "new home in the southern part of the [Salt Lake] city."[12]

i. The first Salt Lake City directory to identify Birch not as a draftsman but as an architect was the 1908 edition, when he partnered with Richard C. Watkins. Birch was associated with Watkins through 1915 as Watkins & Birch; Watkin, Birch & Kent; and Watkins, Birch & Wright. From 1916-1918, Birch practiced alone.[5]

j. The Utah Center for Architecture site on "John Shelley Birch" is authoritative on his Utah practice, but identifies Birch's birth date as July 20, 1893, just 15 years before he was noted as establishing his business. Most sources give his date of birth as 1854, but Birch's passport application states he was born in London on November 9, 1853. The Utah Center provides a date of death of March 1968, 114 years after his true birth date, which also must be in error.[5]

k. Birch was residing in Paso Robles, California in 1919 when he applied for a U. S. passport to travel to England on "family business." The application includes a portrait photograph of Birch.[16]


1. "Massachusetts, Index to Boston Passenger Lists, 1848-1891," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 25 October 2016), John S Birch, 1887; citing Immigration, ship Catalonia, NARA microfilm publication M265 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1969), roll #M265. Accessed March 9, 2018.

2. “Artist in Water Colors” The Nebraska State Journal (November 1, 1888), 8. Accessed February 14, 2018 via

3. Omaha City directory, 1888.

4. Salt Lake City (Utah) directories, 1892-1919: 1892-1893, 1896-1897, "Birch John S, draughtsman R K A Kletting"; 1898-1899, draftsman, W. E. Ware; 1900-1907, draftsman, C. A. Neuhausen; 1908-1917, architect with various partners, independent 1916-1918; 1919, "Birch...John S. moved to Sebastopol Calif."

5. Utah Center for Architecture, John Shelley Birch, on-line at Accessed March 9, 2018. See Note [j].

6. Portland (Oregon) city directory, 1895, "Birch John S, draughtsman S. E. Maxon; res 346 Madison"; "Wanted. Position.--Expert general draughtsman disengaged." American Architect and Building News (March 2, 1895), 47:1001, xii.

7. "Want a Half Holiday. Draughtsmen Present Request to Architects. The Language of the Petition Let to a Misunderstanding, which was Later Cleared Away," Salt Lake City (Utah) Tribune (March 16, 1900), 5.

8. "With Utah Artists," Deseret Evening News (Salt Lake City, Utah) (April 10, 1900), 6.

9. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. s.v. "John S. Birch." Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004.

10. "Personal Mention," Salt Lake (City, Utah) Tribune (July 20, 1901), 8.

11. "Mrs. Neuhausen's Statement," Salt Lake (City, Utah) Tribune (August 17, 1909), 8.

12. "Marriage Licenses...Birch-Youart--John S. Birch, 56, and Mary E. Youart, 48, both of Salt Lake City," San Francisco (California) Call (December 28, 1909), 9; "Society," Salt Lake (City, Utah) Herald-Republican (January 13, 1910), 5.

13. "Architects of Utah Form State Society. Purpose of Organization is to Discuss Matters Pertaining to Profession." Salt Lake (City, Utah) Tribune (February 9, 1910), 14.

14. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. s.v. "John S. Birch." Lehi, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006.

15. "Building Permits," Salt Lake (City, Utah) Herald-Republican (June 15, 1910), 5 [one-story, $3,000].

16. "United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 4 September 2015), John Shelley Birch, 1919; citing Passport Application, California, United States, source certificate #150276, Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925, 1013, NARA microfilm publications M1490 and M1372 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Accessed March 9, 2018.

17. "England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007," database, FamilySearch ( : 4 September 2014), John S Birch, 1940; from "England & Wales Deaths, 1837-2006," database, findmypast ( : 2012); citing Death, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, England, General Register Office, Southport, England. Accessed March 10, 2018.

Page Citation

E. F. Zimmer, “John Shelley Birch (1853-1940), Architect & Artist,” in David Murphy, Edward F. Zimmer, and Lynn Meyer, comps. Place Makers of Nebraska: The Architects. Lincoln: Nebraska State Historical Society, March 10, 2018. Accessed, July 14, 2020.

Contact the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office with questions or comments concerning this page, including any problems you may have with broken links (see, however, the Disclaimers link at the bottom of this page). Please provide the URL to this page with your inquiry.