It was just another peaceful day in the small town of Hamilton, Virginia on March 3, 1867. This rural town of about two hundred people did not know that something wonderful would begin today. Neither did James T. Robinson, a prosperous architect who had designed and built his home, Harmony Hall, in the small town of Hamiliton. The birth of the first child of James and Elizabeth Crockett Robinson was an event that would in some way touch the lives of millions of people.
The Robinsons were overjoyed with their healthy, young son. They named the child Charles Morrison. Time passed, and Charles grew up just like any other normal boy. While Charles was still very young, his father moved his family to Canada, where Charles would receive his elementary education. Still more time passed, and Charles learned that he was destined to be an architect as his father had been. His formal study of architecture began under the direction of D. S. Hopkinds in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His education was pursued even further at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, under the direction of the very famous architect, John K. Peebles.
His dream became a reality in 1889, when he formed his first architectural partnership with G. T. Smith. Their firm became known as Smith & Robinson of Attoona, Pennsylvania.
It was during the duration of this partnership that Charles married Annie Custer of Altoona in 1891. In 1893, his son Charles Custer Robinson was born.
In 1901, Charles
M. Robinson wanted to establish himself independently. He moved his
family fro Altoona to Pittsburgh. He soon returned to his native state,
Virginia, where in 1906, he set up his professional offices in
Back in Virginia, he did not waste much time getting to work. He competed for bids on the new State Normal School (teacher's college) that was to be built in Harrisonburg. Now known as James Madison University, Charles M. designed all of the campus' buildings in the period of 1908-1928.
Charles focused mainly on the designing of normal schools in the early beginnings of Charles M. Robinson, Architect. He also designed Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va and Radford University in Radford, Va.. In 1918 he started work on twenty-one major pieces of work at Virginia State College in Petersburg.
Being a campus institutional architect was not Charles M. Robinson's only talent. Also in 1918, he designed for the Virginia State Board of Health. The Department of Health was then realizing that sanitariums were beneficial to patients and the community and were just as necessary as hospitals. The Board accepted bids, and Charles was chosen to build new sanitariums at Catawba, Burkeville, and Charlottesville. The sanitariums were called Catawba, Piedmont, and Blue Ridge, respectively.
In the 1920s, Charles M. Robinson, Architects had moved into a new office located in the Times-Dispatch Building which the firm had designed. A partnership was formed of the primary members of the firm. The partners were Charles M. Robinson, Charles Custer Robinson, Benjamin A. Ruffin, and J. Banford Wallord.
Still, the college
and university orders came pouring into the office. The University of
Richmond needed to have buildings designed and erected. Charles M. designed
the campus' science buildings (Maryland Hall,
Many other colleges asked for Charles' services. These included:
But Charles' magnum opus was yet to come. Charles became the College Architect for the College of William and Mary where he designed over sixty different pieces of work for 1921-1931. These included: The George Preston Blow Gymnasium, Jefferson Hall, Barrett Hall, Chandler Hall, Monroe Hall, Old Dominion Hall, Roger's Science Hall, Washington Hall, the old Phi Beta Kappa all, and Sorority and Fraternity Courts.
Charles did not only design public works, but he also created many beautiful private structures in the twenties. Most of these were in his home of Richmond. This category included: The Sunday School at Ginter Park Methodist Church, the old Miller and Rhodes building, Ruger's Hotel (now the Raleigh), and The Times-Dispatch Building (now the Insurance Building). His biggest job in Richmond was as an associate architect with Marcellus Wright, Sr. in the construction of the Mosque. Stuart Circle Hospital, Grace Hospital, and St. Elizabeth's Hospital were also designed by Charles M. Robinson.
Outside Richmond he designed private structures too. Among these are the Rockingham Memorial Hospital in Harrisonburg, the Medical Arts Building in Newport News, the Charles H. Taylor Memorial Library in Hampton, and Masonic Lodge Number Six in Williamsburg, which Charles M. gave to the Masons.
In 1926, Charles M., seeing that all was being run well, retired to his farm, Mirebeth, in Hampton, Virginia. He remained active in his partnership, designing plans at his home, and traveling to inspect the buildings while they were under construction.
In 1929, the stock market crashed and the economy suffered. Charles M. Robinson, Architects remained active, however until the early part of 1932 when the depression was at its peak, taking its toll on everything. Because no one could afford to buy more land or a more expensive home, construction was at its lowest point in decades.
Charles M.'s health was failing, and in August 1932, he entered a Norfolk hospital. On Saturday, August 20, 1932, Charles M. Robinson, on the most prominent architects of the South, died after an operation.
On Sunday, August 21, 1932, the firm of Charles M. Robinson, Architects was terminated.
It was the end of an era. An era that encompassed forty-three years. In Charles' buildings, over 600 families are housed, over 100 students sleep in dormitories, over 1100 are treated in hospitals, over 1200 guests stay in hotels, over 100 college students receive instruction, over 17,000 people attend church, over 30,000 can be seated in auditoriums (exclusive of churches), over 60,000 children attend school, and over 1,000,000 square feet of floor space is used for retail operation.
But colleges and
private buildings were not his only work. He designed over four hundred
public schools for children to attend. He created them for every part
of Virginia. From Ashwood to Crabbottom to Flat Rock to Yale, a building
designed by Charles M. Robinson stands in almost every county in Virginia.
He was appointed School Board Architect for Henrico, Norfolk County,
Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Suffolk, and Danville. His most noted
public schools were Newport News High School, Hampton High School, and
Charles M. Robinson indeed left an undisputed legacy. To simply discuss Charles' impact on Richmond would fill volumes. To create a totally accurate account of those outside Richmond would take more space than can ever be allowed.