top of page

Story of an American Architect

Updated: May 5, 2021

By Nancy Albright

A few years ago, the South Haven Center for the Arts discovered that the South Haven Carnegie Library, home of the art center, was designed by a renowned American architect named Albert Randolph Ross (1869–1948).

Rendering of the South Haven Carnegie Library illustrated by its architect Albert Randolph Ross, circa 1905. Ross produced many such renderings for the buildings he designed.

Postcard from the SHCA historical archive

Ross was a native of Westfield, Massachusetts. He studied at the Ècole des Beaux Arts in Paris, trained as a draftsman with his father ,John Ross, in Davenport Iowa from 1884 to 1887, and with architect Charles D. Swan in Buffalo, New York from 1889 to 1890. In 1891, Ross joined the prominent New York City architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White as a junior architect, and in 1898 formed the firm of Ackerman & Ross with William Ackerman. After he and Ackerman dissolved their partnership, Ross went on to design Carnegie libraries and many other public buildings throughout the U.S. Learn some interesting facts about the construction of the library.

Albert Randolph Ross, Architect of the South Haven Center for the Arts, originally the South Haven Carnegie Library

McKim, Mead & White

Stanford White, who designed New York University’s Washington Square Arch in Greenwich Village, founded the firm of McKim, Mead & White in 1879, which became well known for its Beaux Arts masterpieces. He was considered one of the so-called Trinity of Architecture, along with famous American architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, both of Chicago. Ross called White “an aristocrat in the art of architecture.”

Among the firm’s many achievements are the original Pennsylvania Station (demolished in 1963), the Columbia University Library, the Brooklyn Museum, the J. P. Morgan Library, The University Club at the corner of 54th and Fifth Avenue, the Manhattan Metropolitan Club, and the Boston Public Library.

Pennsylvania Station, circa 1911

Image courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ds-04711)

The firm of McKim, Mead & White also designed the second iteration of Madison Square Garden (the Garden is currently in its fourth).

Madison Square Garden #2, New York City, 1891. At that time, the Garden was the second tallest building in New York City, second only to the World Building (home of the Joseph Pulitzer's New York World newspaper), followed closely by the spire of Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-19692)

Ironically, White was murdered on June 25,1906 on the garden's rooftop cabaret by the mentally unstable millionaire playboy Henry Thaw.

McKim, Mead & White designed eleven Carnegie libraries in New York City and helped with a renovation of the White House. They were also commissioned by prominent citizens of New York, Newport, Rhode Island, and beyond to design their grand private homes.

Ackerman & Ross

In 1898 Ross formed the architectural firm of Ackerman & Ross with W. S. Ackerman, a mechanical engineer and designer of the Citizens Trust Building in Paterson, New Jersey. Ross was the principal designer during their tenure together. Ackerman & Ross practiced in New York City, and specialized in grand Beaux Arts style public buildings popular after Chicago’s 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The pair designed libraries in Atlanta, Washington, D.C, and San Diego, as well as the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and the Carnegie Laboratory of Engineering, Stevens Institute, Hoboken, New Jersey. Here are just a few of Ackerman & Ross’s achievements along with some interesting facts.

Carnegie Library of Atlanta, 1900

The structure was one of the few examples of Beaux Arts Classicism in Atlanta at the beginning of the 20th century. It was the first free public library supported by a Georgia city, built at a cost of $145,000, and sat at 126 Carnegie Way in downtown Atlanta. The building incorporated Ionic columns and pilasters and a cornice of dentil design. The entablature read “Erected in the Year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred, Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning.” The arches of Ackerman & Ross’s signature Palladium windows bear the names of the famous writers Aesop, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, and Poe. The main arch bears Carnegie’s name. The windows derive the name from Andrea Palladio (1508–1580), who was influenced by Greek and Roman architecture and originated the arched window design.

Atlanta Carnegie Library circa 1950s

Image courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress (HABS GA,61-ATLA,12--3)

The interior of the library underwent renovations in 1934, 1950, and 1966. The only major original feature that remained was a fireplace and mantle in the East Reading Room that was decorated with tiles depicting scenes from the Uncle Remus stories. The Carnegie Library became the Atlanta Public Library in 1950 and was the Central Branch of the Atlanta Public Library system. In 1952 the library became home to the Georgia State University Library.

Ackerman & Ross architectural design for the Atlanta Public Library, circa 1900

Image courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ppmsca-15571)

Atlanta Public Library: Left to right: North front, column capitals and entablature; Main entranceway; East reading room; Columns and entablature; Reference reading room; Palladium window with Dante inscription above

Images courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress (HABS GA,61-ATLA,12--9, HABS GA,61-ATLA,12--20, HABS GA,61-ATLA,12--13, HABS GA,61-ATLA,12--11, HABS GA,61-ATLA,12--21, HABS GA,61-ATLA,12--8)

The building was demolished in 1977 to make way for a new library, and according to an article published in History Atlanta, when the library was destroyed, many of the original building’s stone decorations were thrown into the old dumping grounds of the City of Atlanta. What is now referred to as the Carnegie Library Trail (not for public use), holds the remains of stone cornices and columns, the pediments dedicated to Virgil and Edgar Allen Poe, and other remnants of the once grand structure. All were deemed “high end trash” by Fulton County. The arched library entrance was saved and now sits at the corner of Baker and Peachtree streets in downtown Atlanta’s Hardy Ivy Park. Click here to learn more and see photos of the Carnegie Library Trail.

San Diego Public Library, 1902

Ackerman & Ross were chosen from a pool of fourteen architectural firms to design the San Diego Public Library, funded by Carnegie in the amount of $60,000. Requirements included a fireproof building constructed of granite or brick, and that each room receive as much daylight as possible based on the building site. Similar to the South Haven Carnegie Library, the stately San Diego Public Library featured Ackerman & Ross’s signature Ionic columns and arched window design. The cornerstone was laid on March 19, 1901, and the building opened on April 23, 1902. It was demolished 1952.

San Diego Public Library, 1902–1952

Photo by unknown

Central Library of the District of Colombia, 1903

One of Ackerman & Ross's most famous designs is the Central Library of the District of Colombia in Mount Vernon Square, which was later the U.S. Historical Society of Washington D.C. The first racially desegregated building in the capital city, it was called the “University of the People,” as inscribed on the stone benches that once lined the curved wings of the building and guided library patrons of all races toward the main stairs. During the Great Depression, the library was commonly known as The Intellectual Breadline. "No one had money, so people went there to feed their brains.”

Central Library of the District of Columbia

Image courtesy of The George F. Landegger Collection of District of Columbia Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. (LC-DIG-highsm-09544)

The building was created by an act of Congress in 1896 to "furnish books and other printed matter and information services convenient to the homes and offices of all residents of the District.” In 1899, a member of the D.C. Library board encountered Andrew Carnegie at the White House, where Carnegie donated $250,000 on the spot to build the library: the donation was written on the back of an envelope. Theodore Roosevelt attended the dedication of the library in 1903.

Ackerman & Ross's design was chosen from the submissions of twenty-four competing architectural firms. The Classic Revival, Beaux Arts-style building is constructed of Vermont marble affixed to structural steel manufactured by the Carnegie Steel Company. The exterior is decorated with Ionic columns, Palladium windows, and decorative friezes. Ackerman & Ross are credited as the architects on a tablet that hangs over the front door of the building, which is visible from the main interior stairway.

From left: Set of ionic columns, similar to the South Haven Center for the Arts building; Carnegie crest above the main entrance (Carnegie requested that all of the libraries display this feature); Reading Room.

Images courtesy of the Library of Congress

The foundation is constructed of Milford pink granite and the interior, white marble. The heavily sculptured interior boasts vaulted ceilings of the Guastovino tile arch design, a prominent feature of Beaux Arts architectural vaults, and is filled with natural light from four huge skylights set into the green slate roof. The crown jewel of the building is the twisting grand staircase that connects the main hall with the entryways leading to the ground level, also signature Ross. The library eventually housed more than 500,000 books and was used as a library until 1970.

Central Library of the District of Columbia, Mount Vernon Square, 801 K St. NW, Washington, DC. Left to right: Grand Hall; Ackerman & Ross architectural drawing; One of the first floor stairwells; Reference Room; Circulation Desk; Reading Room

Images courtesy of the Library of Congress

The building opened in 1972 as the U.S. Historical Society of Washington D.C., and at one time housed the D.C. History Center, and The University of the District of Colombia’s graduate library. It opened in 2019 as an Apple Store (Apple Carnegie Library).

Union County Courthouse, Elizabeth, New Jersey, 1903

The Union County Courthouse, located at 2 Broad Street, was dedicated in 1905. The three-story Classical Revival structure boasts a three-bay principal facade, portico, Corinthian columns, and a three-story rotunda—one its best-known features. The second and third floor hallways are open to the rotunda and still house offices and facilities used by county government. A tablet on the building reads "Union County Courthouse Commenced February 1903, Completed April 1905, Architects Ackerman & Ross." The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Union County Courthouse, Elizabeth, NYJ, circa 1930–1945

Postcard from the Boston Public Library, The Tichnor Brothers Collection

Ross: On His Own

After dissolving his partnership with William Ackerman, Ross went on to design Carnegie libraries in Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York City, and Michigan. He also designed The Milwaukee County Courthouse, the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, New Jersey, and many other buildings throughout the U.S., many of which are still standing. Ross also designed architectural monuments in many locations on the east coast, including one for President McKinley and another for Union Soldiers and Sailors.

Atlantic City Free Public Library, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 1903

“A place in the city where children and adults of all races, creeds, and cultures could mingle, learn and grow.” When the library opened in 1905, records show that it became the second home for many resort children, and hundreds of local children would spend time there every day after school.

A combination of Classical and Neoclassical design, the 9,000 square-foot, three-story library included an art gallery, museum, and meeting rooms on the third floor, so that the library could "use all avenues of education, not just books.” The granite building encompasses, marble, terra cotta, terrazzo floors, Scagliola-finished columns, marble and iron staircases, and plenty of natural light in the public areas.

Atlantic City Free Public Library, Atlantic City, New Jersey, built 1903. The building is now the Carnegie Center, Richard Stockton College.

The central stacks were open to the public and Ross designed separate public spaces to house specialized materials like newspapers and periodicals, rather then one large reading room. The library collected and shipped books to soldiers serving in World War I, and during the Great Depression patrons searched the newspapers for jobs, sales, and answers to newspaper and radio quizzes. During World War II the library supplied visiting soldiers with paper, pens, and mail service so they could write letters home.

Even though the building has lived through several periods of improvements and minor renovations throughout the last hundred years or so, the exterior has remained virtually intact and the interior has only been altered in small ways. It remained a library until 1985 and is now the Carnegie Library Center of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus Ohio, 1903

Ross was commissioned to design the Carnegie Building at 96 S. Grant Ave. in downtown Columbus—now called the Columbus Metropolitan Library. The Classic Revival structure was built of Vermont marble and granite at a cost of $200,000. The interior of the building is constructed of marble and the second floor is constructed of Guastovino arches, another of Ross's signature architectural features, that are embellished with stained glass.

Decoration is in the Beaux Arts style, including eight cherubs representing arts and letters—each cut from a solid block of marble—and numerous carvings, including “My Treasures Within,” at Carnegie’s suggestion. The cornerstone was laid in 1904 and the library opened to the public on April 4, 1907. A new library wing was added in 1991 and part of the original building is now used as an exhibition space.

Columbus Metropolitan Library. Left to right: Central foyer; Detail of stained glass and Guastovino arches; One of two marble staircases leading from the foyer to the second floor

Denver Central Library, 1910

Built with $200,000 of Carnegie funds, the opulent Denver Public Library opened on February 15, 1910 and was hailed the “Greek Temple of Literacy.” It was built of Turkey Creek sandstone from quarries near Pueblo, Colorado. Typical of Ross’s Greek Revival style, the library boasts an Ionic colonnade that surrounds the entire building. It has been reported that Ross didn't like the building, which he designed to the city's specifications, because it had "too many columns."

Denver Central Library, 1910–1955. Left to right: Foyer, circa 1910; Exterior of the "Temple of Literacy" circa 1910; Seven stories of glass and metal constructed to hold up to 300,000 books

The building was designed to accommodate 300,000 books that lived on glass and metal stacks measuring 7’ x 7’ and extended seven stories, built as a free-standing structure unconnected to the floor or walls of the building. The third floor housed a spacious hall for art exhibitions, memorials, and other events.

The building was completed in 1909, but the opening was delayed until 1910 because the furniture makers were behind schedule. According to Denver Municipal Facts, the furniture was made of oak "with an exquisite finish that excites the admiration of even the most fastidious." Some of the tables now reside in the Western History Department.

Newspapers from all over the country were kept in the reading room and were "attached to handsome table racks, and he who reads them must stand, as no seats were provided for the peruser of the daily paper,” so that patrons wouldn’t monopolize them. There was space for forty-six people to stand at the newspaper racks.

On February 15, 1910, the Denver Public Library opened its new home, "the first to be truly adequate." The building was home to the central library and still stands at the corner of La Veta Place and Colfax, between Acoma and Bannock. It was renamed The McNichols Civic Center in 1999.

Monclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey, 1914

The Neoclassical building just a few miles west of New York City was the first public museum in New Jersey and the first dedicated solely to art. The museum’s collection was also the first dedicated to collecting the art of Native Americans. According to the New York Times, Montclair was home to “more prominent artists and wealthy art connoisseurs, probably, than any other place in New Jersey.” Well-known artists often commuted to Montclair from the city to work in their studios. A large addition to the southeast side of the museum was built in 1931 and includes a sculpture rotunda. A 2001 renovation doubled the building’s size from 20,000 to 40,000 feet.

Rendering of the Montclair Art Museum, circa 1914

Milwaukee County Courthouse, 1929

The Milwaukee County Courthouse is one of Ross’ most monumental undertakings—the three-story, 300,000 square-foot building occupies an entire downtown block. The Neoclassical structure is composed of 36,000 polished limestone blocks and dominated by a Corinthian colonnade that wraps the building. Carved entablatures, denticulated cornices, and an inscribed frieze embellish the courthouse.

Central pavilions that project outward and rise above the main façade flank the building, breaking up its flat surface and strengthening its imposing character to reinforce its function as a civic structure. An arcade of groined arches trimmed in Travertine and Italian marble form the interior, and is surrounded by two levels of mezzanine windows.

Ross’s design surpassed those of thirty-three architects invited to participate in the competition, including Frank Lloyd Wright, who reportedly “lost with some amusement.” Ross won a $10,000 prize for his design.

In 1927 Ross told the Milwaukee Journal, “When I went into the competition I considered whether to design a building in the modern and experimental trend for a great public courthouse. I made modern sketches, but in my opinion, they fell flat for this purpose. They were not typical and expressive of public work, so I turned to that type established by our forefathers. I have no quarrel with trends in modern architecture. I take a fling at it myself. But it simply won't do for public buildings. It violates the dictates of a definite style built up through one hundred and fifty years of our history. A departure into modernism would not be suitable for a courthouse. We must be trained slowly to things violently new. The public's money cannot rightly be used to force experiments down its throat.”

Milwaukee County Courthouse, circa 1929

More Ross Designs

Many other buildings and structures of Ross’s design are still standing in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Ohio, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Colorado, Michigan, and many other parts of the U.S. It's fair to say that the South Haven Center for the Arts' building was designed by a prolific, sought-after, and talented architect; a master of architectural design.

Left to right: Taunton Public Library, Taunton, New Jersey, Photo courtesy of Kenneth Zirkel; East Orange Public Library, East Orange, New Jersey, rendering; Nashville Main Library, rendering (looks much like the SHCA)

Pennsylvania State Memorial, Vicksburg, Pennsylvania, 1906

The Pennsylvania State Memorial is located at Grant Circle, Vicksburg, Pennsylvania. Dedicated on March 24, 1906, the memorial was designed by Ross and sculptor Charles Albert Lopez at a cost of $12,500. A granite shaft was placed at the back of the elliptical platform that is approached by a flight of three steps. The five bronze medallions portray commanders of the Pennsylvania unit.

594 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page