Russell Sturgis (1836-1909)

The Russell Sturgis Architectural Drawings and Papers contains lectures, notes, photographs, correspondence, and architectural drawings documenting the work of American architect and author Russell Sturgis, and, secondarily, his son, Lyman Sturgis. The materials were created between 1874 and 1932.


Russell Sturgis (1836-1909), architect, art historian and writer, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. After graduating from the Free Academy (later the College of the City of New York) in 1856, he studied with New York City architect Leopold Eidlitz and received further architectural education in Munich, Germany. He returned to New York City in 1863 to begin his career as an architect and resided there until his death in 1909.

Among his best-known buildings are the Farnam, Durfee, and Lawrence dormitories and the Battell Chapel at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; the Flower Hospital in New York City; and the Mechanics' and Farmers' Bank in Albany, New York.

Sturgis' legacy remains, however, more closely tied to his role as an art and architectural historian, writer, and lecturer. In fact, he virtually abandoned the practice of architecture for these other activities after the early 1880s.

Notably, Sturgis also played a significant role in the founding and development of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University. Samuel Putnam and Mary Ogden Avery founded the library in 1890 in memory of their son, Henry Ogden Avery, who had studied earlier with Sturgis, stipulating that there were to be three people responsible for the development of the collection—the librarian of Columbia College, the professor of the Architectural Department, and Russell Sturgis.


Sturgis served as president of the Architectural League of New York from 1889 to 1893 and of the Fine Arts Federation from 1895 to 1897. His writings were extensive and, in addition to writing for various magazines and journals, Sturgis was the author of European architecture: a historical study (1896); Annotated Bibliography of fine art: painting, sculpture, architecture, arts of decoration and illustration (1897) for the American Library Association; the multi-volume Dictionary of Architecture and Building (1901-1902); How to judge architecture; a popular guide to the appreciation of buildings (1903);and was co-translator of Wilhelm Luebke's Outlines of the History of Art (1904).


Sturgis' manuscript for The History of Architecture (1906-1915) was only partially complete at this time of his death in 1909.

Sturgis lectured widely for various audiences, including Columbia College, Barnard College, the Metropolitan Museum, the Peabody Institute, the American Institute of Architects, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the College of the City of New York, among many others.

The bulk of the Sturgis collection includes typescripts and manuscripts for these lectures and addresses about architecture and fine art given between 1884 and 1895, often accompanied by slide lists or notes.

Complementing the lecture materials is a small group of study photographs, including many images of French architecture, as well as examples of interior decoration. Additionally, there is one portrait photograph of Sturgis.

A second part of this collection, Olcott Papers, documents the planning and construction of the Mechanics' and Farmers' Bank in Albany, New York. The materials consist of five original architectural drawings and a group of more than 160 letters and telegrams, some of which contain small architectural sketches by Sturgis. The letters date from July 1874 to July 1875.

Russell Sturgis, architect. Mechanics' and Farmers' Bank, Albany, New York. Cashier's Room, detail of design for marble flooring, 1874. Russell Sturgis, architect. Mechanics' and Farmers' Bank, Albany, New York.<br>Cashier's Room, detail of design for marble flooring, 1874.

Lastly, this collection also includes a small group of correspondence to and from Russell's son, Lyman Sturgis, a writer and literary agent for the Beacon Syndicate in New York City. This material relates to literary matters and dates from 1931 and 1932.