The work of Alexander Parris (1780-1852) in Richmond, Virginia, has not been previously studied, yet it forms the crucial link between his better known early and mature work in New England. This article focuses on his most important Richmond commission, the John Wickham house, built in 1811-1812, and now part of the Valentine Museum. Traditionally attributed to Robert Mills, the house is reassigned to Parris on the basis of a letter by him claiming the design, four drawings in his hand for the house, and correspondence between the client and B. Henry Latrobe about the initial Parris design. The Parris drawings and Latrobe letters also provide the basis for tracing the sources for, and the evolution of, the design. Parris' preliminary plan includes several features identifiable from his previous work in Portland, Maine, as well as elements derived more directly from English architectural books. Latrobe's blistering critique of that initial design is examined to identify the sources of Latrobe's architectural theories and the impact of his comments on Parris' Wickham project. A second Parris study for the house shows his reaction to that critique, while the final form of the house demonstrates Parris' successful synthesis of his own early work, Latrobe's critique and buildings in Richmond and Philadelphia, and published English sources. Overall, the Wickham project was a critical episode in Parris' development as a designer and in his evolution from housewright to architect. It is the key to understanding the imprint of Latrobe on the remainder of Parris' architectural career.
- Copyright 1982 The Society of Architectural Historians