William S. Gray (1851-1927), Architect

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Lincoln, Nebraska, 1884-1920

William S. Gray was born in August 1851 in Illinois to William and Lydia Gray. He married Edith Marie Dehaven in 1878 and they resided in Beardstown, Illinois in 1880, where the census listed him as a "Patent right Ag[en]t".[6][7][8][19] He was referred to as "an architect from Beardstown" in 1884 when he left Illinois for Lincoln, Nebraska.[9][33] There he worked very actively for a decade as an architect designing and superintending construction of residences, commercial buildings, schools and several county courthouses.[6][7][8] While he continued to be listed in the censuses of 1900 and 1910 as an architect, by 1900 his professional emphasis appears to have shifted to inventions and to manufacturing some of his creations. William and Edith Maria had a daughter, Viola, who taught at Lincoln High School.[6][7][8][45]46][p]

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

Johnson County Courthouse, 1888-1889 (D. Murphy)

Compiled Nebraska Directory Listings

Lincoln, Nebraska, 1886-1921

Educational & Professional Associations

1880: patent right agent, Beardstown, Illinois.[19]

1885-1886: Gray & Placey, Architects, Lincoln, Nebraska.[7[b]

1886-1910: architect, Lincoln, Nebraska.[6][7]

1901-1903: Vice President of the Eureka Manufacturing Company, Lincoln, Nebraska.[11][o]

1913-1915: inventor, Lincoln, Nebraska.[o]

by 1916: retired, Lincoln, Nebraska.[8][o][p]

Other Associations

1890: Employed Frederick A. Henninger (1865-1944), Architect as draftsman.

Buildings & Projects

Frame Lutheran church (1885), Tecumseh, Nebraska.[34]

York County Courthouse (1885-1888), block bounded by Lincoln, Grand, 5th & 6th Streets, York, Nebraska, demolished. (In partnership with O. H. Placey as Gray & Placey, Architects.)

"Forest Hill" (mansion of lumberman Charles C. Munson) (1886), SE corner of 26th & O Streets (100 S. 26th), Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[13]

Design for a two-story brick "tenement flat" for Mrs. Osborne (1886), SE corner of 10th & J Streets, Lincoln, Nebraska.[17][c]

Two-story frame house for Walter Hoge (1886), corner of 26th & M (319 S. 26th), Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[35]

Two 8-room dwellings for C. E. Loomis (1886), corner of 11th & H, Lincoln, Nebraska.[18]

Frank Sheldon house/later known as Ellen Smith Hall of University of Nebraska (1887), NW corner 14th & R (1340 R), Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[5][9][14][50][r]

Sheldon Block (1887), SW corner of 11th & N (1035 N), Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[15]

Presbyterian Church (1887), NE corner of 9th & Lincoln Avenue, York, Nebraska, demolished.[15]

E. Leming house (1887), 602 S. 17th, Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[21]

Four-story brick building for Thomas Woods (1887), 209 S. 11th, Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[36]

Three-story brick block for Bently & Leming (1887), N. 9th Street between U and V, Lincoln, Nebraska.[15]

Strickland Building (1887), S. 10th between N and O (133 S. 10th), Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[15]

J. F. Houseman house (1887), Aurora, Nebraska.[15]

St. Mark's English Lutheran Church (1887), 1519 Q Street, Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[20][k]

Stubblefield Block (1887), west side of S. 11th between N and M (207 S. 11th), Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[37][j]

McBride Block (1887-1888), NE corner of 12th & P (218 N. 12th), Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[16][24][n]

Proposal for Lancaster County Courthouse (1888), Lincoln, Nebraska.[38][l]

Mrs. Mary A. Reed house (1888), probably 1411 Q Street, Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[22][48][q]

Johnson County Courthouse (1888-1889), SW corner 3rd & Clay, Tecumseh, Nebraska.[3:52][4][23] (JO07-001) National Register narrative

Tabitha Orphanage (1889), NW corner of 45th & Randolph, Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[25][d]

Boiler house on State Capitol grounds (1889), 1438 H Street, Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[39]

Cherry Street School/later called Prescott Elementary (1889), S 20th and Cherry (1950 Cherry, now Sumner), Lincoln, Nebraska, demolished.[26][e]

Butler County Courthouse (1889-1890), block bounded by E, D, 4th & 5th, David City, Nebraska, demolished.[27]

Proposal for a high school (1890), Lincoln, Nebraska.[28][f]

St. John Building (1888), "next to the Opelt" [Hotel, later Arlington House], 229-231 N. 9th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska, (extant 2018).[40][m]

Cass County Courthouse (1891-1892), NE corner Main & 4th, Plattsmouth, Nebraska.[1][3:58][4][29] (CC14-109) National Register narrative

Project for "$70,000 building" (1892), Marshall, Missouri.[30][g]

Proposal for court house (1892), Clinton, Iowa.[31][h]

Plans for a "Labor Palace" (1892, to be located on southeast corner of 11th & M Streets, Lincoln, Nebraska.[52]

Bishop Bonacum's residence (1893), southeast of 27th and Calvert Streets, Lincoln, Nebraska.[51]

Hamilton County Courthouse (1894-1896), 12th & M, Aurora, Nebraska.[3:64][4][12][41][i] (HM01-001) National Register narrative

Other Accomplishments

1893: Testified as expert witness to Nebraska Supreme Court in case involving Cell House construction at State Penitentiary [31]

1898: Invented/Patented the Wonder Grain Grader [9][11]

1903: Invented/Patented the Perfection Cooker [9][10]


a. Nebraska State Journal of August 22, 1884 mentioned that "William Gray, an architect from Beardstown, Illinois, is in the city for a day or two, looking about for a location. He will be a Nebraska citizen of worth to the community wherein he locates."[33]

b. A notice in the classified advertisements of June 1, 1886 of the Daily State Journal announced "Notice is hereby given that the copartnership heretofore existing between William Gray and O. H. Placey is on this day dissolved by mutual consent. William Gray assumes all indebtedness of the firm. O. H. Placey, architect, can be found at 1163 O street."[4]

c. Lincoln News of July 2, 1886 reported" "Mrs. Osborne will shortly commence on J street, between 10th and 11th, of a fine 'flat,' the first real tenement flat in the city. It will be of brick, two story with high basement, and will consist of five sections of seven rooms each. It is in accordance with plans drawn by Wm. Gray, the architect, and will have all modern improvements." The project appears not to have been built. Michael W. Osborn & wife acquired three lots on the SE corner of 10th & J Streets in 1880 (Lancaster Deed 5-234). By the time of the 1891 Sanborn Map Co. atlas of Lincoln, three frame dwellings stood on the three lots; not appeared to provide anywhere close to 35 rooms. City directories of 1889 and 1890 suggest 1003 J and 1007 J were family homes and 1021 J was in use as a boarding house.[17]

d. The "Tabita Asylum" was described in early 1889 as a "creditable enterprise" under the direction of Rev. Henry Heiner of "the Evangelical St. Paul church of this city..." The article continues: "...a visit to the office of Wm Gray, the Lincoln architect, discloses...that Mr. G. quite recently completed the plans for a new orphan's home, located on Randolph street abut two miles east of the state capitol..." Also "in hand [were] the plans for a hospital to be built near the Home for the benefit of children and the infirm of all ages and nationalities without regard for religious belief."[25]

e. Lincoln Evening News of April 18, 1889 proclaimed that "Architect Wm. Gray has completed acceptable plans for the new school building to be erected near the corner of Twentieth and Cherry streets. Notwithstanding numerous statements that the building could not be erected for the money the contract was let within the appropriation and will be the handsomest structure in Lincoln."[26]

f. The Lincoln board of education held multiple sessions in 1890 to receive presentations from numerous architects on a proposed high school. Nebraska-based architects listed included Omahans Fowler & Beindorf and F. M. Ellis; Lincolnites Placey, William S. Gray, Fiske, and Craddock & Hay; and Bailey & Farmer of Kearney. Out-of-state architects cited were Seymour Davis (Topeka), Maxon & Bourgeois (Council Bluffs, Iowa, Palister & Company (New York), and R. C. Kerr & Co. of Rock Island. Plans selected for further consideration were those of Gray, Beindorf, Maxon, Davis, Placey, and Farmer. Parsons of Topeka was given extra time to submit his plans.[28]

g. Lincoln Evening Call of January 17, 1892 recounts a story of William Gray receiving a letter of invitation to design a building in Marshall, Missouri for a man Gray had assisted eight years before. Rather than replying, Gray bought a train ticket and proceeded to Marshall.[30]

h. Lincoln Evening Call of June 18, 1892 pointed out that "Wm. Gray, the architect of this city has a handsomely framed view of a proposed court house at Clinton, Iowa hung up in the Capitol hotel office. Mr. Gray is one of the leading architects in public buildings in the west, and has erected a number of court houses in this state, and Lincoln can feel proud of his citizenship." The Clinton County Courthouse was under construction in 1893 but not completed until 1897. It was designed by M. S. Mansfield, whose design was selected from among 9 entries. See https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/iowa-courts-history/iowa-county-courthouse-history/clinton-county-courthouse/ accessed January 7, 2017.[31][47]

i. The builders were the Atkinson Brothers of Colorado Springs, Colorado.[12]

j. Lincoln News reported on August 30, 1887 on "A case growing out of the stoppage of work last week on the Stubblefield block on South Eleventh street [which] came up in Judge Parker's court today. It will be remembered that William Gray, the architect and superintendent, ordered the discharge of four colored laborers who were personally unsatisfactory to him, and as Shoemaker, the contractor, refused to discharge them, work was stopped. Richard Hughes, one of the men, has now sued Gray for his wages. This is to be a test case involving the right of a superintendent to order the discharge of men for personal reasons, and will no doubt attract much attention on that account, as it involves points not before passed upon by the courts. The case was continued one week on application of the defendant." September 8th, the paper reported "In the Gray case, on trial before Judge Parker yesterday in which Richard Hughes sued William Gray, the architect, to recover wages because the latter objected to him working on a job of which Gray was superintendent, judgment was rendered in favor of Hughes. All the other men laid off at the same time will now commence suit."[37]

k. Lincoln Evening Call described Gray's plans for the "new church about to be erected on the southeast corner of Fourteenth and M streets by St. Mark's English Lutheran congregation." Capacity was described as 300 and "The extreme dimensions are about 48 feet by 92 feet. The architectural design is something new in church architecture in this city, and reflects credit upon the building committee and the architect, William Gray."[20]

l. In February 1888, at least thirteen architects vied for the commission to design Lancaster County Commissioners. Nebraska-based architects included Ellis, Mendelssohn, Fisher & Lawrie, and Hodgson & Son, Architects of Omaha; and Placey, James Tyler, Hawkins, and Gray of Lincoln.[38]

m. Lincoln Evening News of May 15, 1890 reported that Gray had been employed by Orson St. John to "furnish plans and specifications for the St. John building next to the Opelt" for 4% on the cost of construction. The estimated cost was $11,500 but the actual cost reached $13,150. At dispute was "whether the plaintiff should receive commission on the real cost or the estimated cost." St. John offered to pay $497, which Gray refused. (The full 4% on the actual cost equals $526.) The judge ordered Gray to accept the $497, and to pay the court costs. Orson Swift St. John of Ohio purchased the south 50 feet of Lots 1 and 2, Block 33, Original Plat of Lincoln, in 1880 (Lancaster Deeds 7-356 & 7-358). The building is extant (2018) at 227 N. 9th. It has long been identified as the "Burr & Muir Block" and credited to Lincoln architect James Tyler. However, a close examination of City directories places the Burr & Muir Block at 211-219 N. 9th (south of the mid-block alley). An early photo of 227 N. 9th shows a legible date carved into the stone lintel of the central, third-floor windows, reading "1888."[40][49]

n. Contemporary photographs of this building were published in 1889 in Lincoln Picturesque and Descriptive, and are reprinted in Lincoln's Early Architecture. Lincoln Evening Call of September 19, 1888 provides a very detailed description of those involved in the construction of the building, from material suppliers through the various building trades, and a roster of the tenants and spaces throughout the building.[16][24]

o. Gray was listed as "inventor" in Lincoln city directories of 1913-1915; in later directories he was listed without an occupation and in the 1920 census was noted as "retired." His interest in inventions was longstanding. As early as the 1880 census he was listed as a "patent right ag't." An article of 1898 in Nebraska State Journal suggested Gray had been working for the preceding year on a machine to separate gold from surrounding sand or gravel by means of air rather than water. He was apparently not successful in that attempt but used a similar concept in his "Wonder Grain Grader" which was produced by Eureka Manufacturing Company of Lincoln, of which he was vice-president. Eureka built a new plant in 1906 and has an exhibit at the 1907 Nebraska State Fair, when the company was described as "one of Lincoln's most prosperous manufacturing concerns," but was bankrupt by 1909. Lincoln State Journal commented after his death in 1927 "William Gray spend a large part of his life in pursuit of inventions. He was a practicing architect about forty years ago and had several good Lincoln buildings to his credit. Then his active mind began working on processes for saving labor. Making new processes became a passion with him. His pressure cooker only needed good management to make it a success."[19][42][43][44]

p. Gray was involved in several court cases during his four decades in Lincoln. In the 1880s and 1890s, these typically involved architectural matters--fees, rights of construction superintendents, etc. In the 20th century, some of the issues were more personal, including a malpractice suit against a Lincoln surgeon (1904) and libel and conspiracy suits against the Lincoln Star publisher (1907).[45][46]

q. Widow Mary A. Reed bought a small house at 1827 E Street in 1887 for herself and her four adult children. By 1889, members of the family were residing at 1411 Q, which they operated as a boarding house.[48]

r. Lincoln (Nebraska) State News on April 5, 1887 mentioned: "The work of excavating for the foundation of F L Sheldon's new residence which will be built on the corner of 14th and R streets, was begun yesterday. Architect Gray has prepared plans for the building which will be one of the finest in the city."[50]


1. Benjamin W. George, "Soft Eclecticism in the U.S.A., An Example: The Cass County Courthouse, Plattsmouth, Nebraska,” TS (January, 1973).

2. Obituary, Lincoln Star (January 20, 1927).

3. Oliver B. Pollak, Nebraska Courthouses: Contention, Compromise, and Community. Images of America Series (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2002).

4. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

5. "Dissolutions," (Lincoln, Nebraska) Daily State Journal (July 1, 1886), 7.

6. 1900 United States Census, s.v. "William Gray," Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska, accessed through HeritageQuestOnline.com.

7. 1910 United States Census, s.v. "William Gray," Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska, accessed through HeritageQuestOnline.com.

8. Lincoln city directories; 1920 United States Census, s.v. "William Gray," Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska, accessed through HeritageQuestOnline.com.

9. “William Gray, 75, Dies at Home Here,” The Lincoln Star (January 20, 1927); "More or Less Personal," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (January 23, 1927), C-4.

10. “A World Beater Perfection Cooker.” (May 13, 1918), accessed October 4, 2016, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/loc.ark:/13960/t9086xf9n?urlappend=%3Bseq=1

11. “William Gray, 1852-1927,” Nebraska State Historical Society, April 7, 2010, accessed January 7, 2017, https://history.nebraska.gov/collections/william-gray-1852-1927-rg3402am

12. Marion Enderle, letter to Omaha World Herald Action Editor. September 1994.

13. "Gone to be a Nabob," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening News (February 13, 1886), 4.

14. "Notice to Contractors," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (March 17, 1887), 4.

15. "Improvements. Brief Mention of a Few of the Many," Lincoln (Nebraska) Daily News (April 14, 1887), 4; "Notice to Contractors," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (May 5, 1887), 7.

16. "Miscellaneous...Notice Contracting Stone Masons," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (November 8, 1887), 7; illustrated (photos) in Lincoln Picturesque and Descriptive (George B. Pratt: Neenah, Wisconsin, 1889); reprinted in Matthew Hansen, J. L. McKee, E. F. Zimmer, Lincoln's Early Architecture (Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, South Carolina, 2014), 32-34.

17. Lincoln (Nebraska) News (July 2, 1886), 4.

18. Lincoln (Nebraska) Daily News (July 27, 1886), 41

19. Ancestry.com. Illinois, County Marriage Records, 1800-1940 [database on-line]. s. v. "William Gray." Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016; Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. s. v. "William Gray." Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.

20. "A New Church," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening Call (September 23, 1887), 4; "Notice to Contractors," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (September 28, 1887), 7.

21. "Notice to Contractors," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening Call (March 31, 1887), 4.

22. "Contractors Are Requested to Call," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (March 11, 1888), 7.

23. Lincoln (Nebraska) News, (April 21, 1888), 4; "Notice to Contractors," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (May 3, 1888), 7.

24. "The New McBride Block. The Neatest and Most Substantial Brick Block in the City," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening Call (September 19, 1888), 4.

25. "A Laudable Enterprise," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening News (January 15, 1889), 4.

26. "Mere Mention" (Board of Ed. contract with Wm. Gray for new school on Cherry Street), (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (March 28, 1889), 5; "Notice to Contractors," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening Call (April 2, 1889), 4; Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening News (April 18, 1889), 4.

27. Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening News (May 18, 1889), 4; "Court House to Let. Notice to Building Contractors," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (June 12, 1889), 6; Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening News (November 6, 1889), 4.

28. "Help School Plans. The Board of Education Gives Audience to a Dozen Architects," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening Call (March 27, 1890), 1.

29. "Acceptable Plans," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening News (February 6, 1891), 1; "Still in the Lead. Plattsmouth, Neb., Feb. 25," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening News, (February 26, 1891), 1; "Witnessed by Thousands. Laying of the Corner Sstone of Plattsmouth's Court House. Peace is Declared in the County," Omaha (Nebraska) Daily Bee (June 30, 1891), 1.

30. "Two Remarkable Incidents," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening Call (January 17, 1892), 4.

31. "Brevities. Paragraphs of a Local Nature, Picked at Random," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening Call (June 18, 1892), 8.

32. "Experts Testify. Wm. Gray Gives Estimated Cost of Cell House Construction," (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening News (May 5, 1893), 1.

33. (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (August 22, 1884), 8.

34. "Notice to Contractors," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (November 6, 1885), 7.

35. "To Contractors," Lincoln (Nebraska) New (June 25, 1886), 4.

36. "Notice to Contractors," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening Call (April 11, 1887), 2.

37. Lincoln (Nebraska) News (August 30, 1887), 4; (September 8, 1887), 4.

38. "After a Courthouse. The County Commissioners Commence the Work of Examining Plans--A Large Number of Architects in the Competition," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (February 22, 1888), 2.

39. "State Boiler House," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening Call (May 3, 1889), 4; McCook (Nebraska) Tribune (May 3, 1889), 2.

40. "Realm of Justice...District Court Proceedings," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening News (May 15, 1890), 4.

41. "A New Building. Hamilton County Lets the Contract for a Court House," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (July 1, 1894), 3.

42. Nebraska State Journal (November 24, 1898), 4.

43. "Ground is Bought for New Implement Factory. Company with Authorized Capital of Half Million Will Go into Manufacture of Grain Grader," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening News (September 22, 1906), 5; "Eureka Manufacturing Co. Exhibit of Wonder Grain Grader and Products of Lincoln Sash and Door Co.," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (September 3, 1907), 6; "Sale in Bankruptcy," (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal (January 2, 1910), 10-B.

44. "More or Less Personal," Lincoln (Nebraska) State Journal (January 23, 1927), C-4.

45. "Gray Wants Ten Thousand. Testimony Heard in a Suit Against Dr. Everett," Nebraska State Journal (December 8, 1904), 2.

46. Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening News (August 10, 1907), 8.

47. "The Court House Bonds...Clinton County's Predicatment," Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa (February 24, 1893), 1.

48. E. F. Zimmer, The Near South Walking Tours: Vol. 2, (Lincoln, Nebraska: Near South Neighborhood Assoc., 1990), 16; Lincoln city directories, 1889, 1890.

49. Matthew Hansen, J. L. McKee, E. F. Zimmer, Lincoln's Early Architecture (Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, South Carolina, 2014), 94.

50. Lincoln (Nebraska) Daily News (April 5, 1887), 4.

51. "Brevities--Paragraphs of a Local Nature Picked at Random...Today, Architect Gray will receive bids for the construction of Bishop Bonacum's residence which is to be located in South Lincoln," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening Call (February 27, 1893), 8.

52. "The Labor Palace. Designs Now Ordered for the New Structure. The Building Finished is to Cost $50,000," Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening Call (January 9, 1892), 8.

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Page Citation

D. Murphy and E. Zimmer, “William S. Gray (1851-1927), Architect,” in David Murphy, Edward F. Zimmer, and Lynn Meyer, comps. Place Makers of Nebraska: The Architects. Lincoln: Nebraska State Historical Society, December 15, 2022. http://www.e-nebraskahistory.org/index.php?title=Place_Makers_of_Nebraska:_The_Architects Accessed, March 27, 2023.

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