Biddle, Owen



Biddle, Owen


Owen Biddle, "House carpenter and teacher of architectural drawing," is primarily remembered as the author of The Young Carpenter's Assistant, or A System of Architecture, Adapted to the Style of Building in the United States. Illustrated with forty-four plates, this is one of the earliest books on architecture written and published in America, and it was widely reprinted throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1833 John Haviland revised the original text, added a new introduction and twenty plates, and reissued it as An Improved and Enlarged Edition of Biddle's Young Carpenter's Assistant. Of Biddle's lamentably brief and promising career, little is known. He was the son of Owen Biddle, Sr., a member of the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, and from 1799 to 1801, was associated with the carpenter Joseph Cowgill. Biddle was elected to The Carpenters' Company in 1800 and designed the Arch Street Meeting House (330 Arch St., Phila.) in 1803, for which his drawing survives. When the Schuylkill Permanent Bridge was constructed (1798-1805), Biddle was hired "to perform the workmanship of the covering, agreeably to a design furnished by them to him." The president of the bridge company wrote that the covering "was executed with singular fidelity and credit, by Mr. Owen Biddle, an ingenious carpenter and architect of Philadelphia who made additions to the design." Biddle's account of the project appeared as a "Description of the Schuylkill Bridge," in the Literary Magazine and American Register (October, 1805). He also served as master builder of John Dorsey's Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Building (1805-1806; burned, 1845).

Biography from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings, a project of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Written by Roger W. Moss.

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First Name


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Deceased Date


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Business Address

Spruce above 7th (CD) (1805)


Author, "The Young Carpenter's Assistant . . ." Revised by John Haviland in 1833.
330 Arch St., architect for east wing and center building.


Tatman & Moss Bio Dictionary Phila. Architects page 68. "House carpenter and teacher of architectural drawing," he is primarily remembered as the author of "The Young Carpenter's Assistant, or a System of Architecture, Adapted to the Style of Building in the United States." Illustrated with 44 plates, this is one of the earliest books on architecture written and published in America, and it was widely reprinted throughout the first half of the 19th century. In 1833 John Haviland (q.v.) revised the original text, added a new introduction and 20 plates, and reissued it as "An Improved and Enlarged Edition of Biddle's Young Carpenter's Assistant. See Selected Bibliography in Tatman & Moss Bio Dictionary Phila. Architects. Papers & drawings at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Also articles listed. -------------------- EARLY RECORDS DO NOT DISTRINGUISH between Owen Biddle, Sr., and his son, the architect, born in 1774 - and died still a young man in his early 30's.) Also in file is sheet telling of relationship of his book to proposed architectural school by the Company - and the proposal's defeat. -------------------- In INHP library report on construction of First Bank there is a copy of an illustration showing the front facade of the building; drawing appeared in edition of "Young Carpenters' Assistant." -------------------- Managing Committee Minutes-March 5, 1992-page 135 Report from Historian Peterson on Owen Biddle's association with the Company's architecture school. Also information on his life. Copy of page in file. ------------------- "The Building of Christ Church," page 139, tells of Biddle's including in his book a carefully engraved plate (No. XLIV) and a tribute to Robert Smith and the Christ Church steeple. (in file of John Harrison.) -------------------- City Directory - 1805 - Owen, carpenter, Spruce above 7th ------------------- Managing Committee Minutes-1800-8-116,129 George Summers proposed Owen Biddle; Owen Biddle elected. ------------------ "Philadelphia Preserved" page 60 - Architect for east wing and center building of Friends Meeting, 330 Arch St. ----------------- "Fort Mifflin of Philadelphia" - pag 24 Biddle, Sr. (not a Company member, and father of the member) appointed one of three superintendents of Fort Island (Fort Mifflin); requests from barracks master to Biddle for supplies to make repairs to Fort. In his file, see pages copied from "Fort Mifflin of Philadelphia," telling of his work at the fort protecting Philadelphia. ----------------- Excerpt in member his file telling of carting cannon balls by his father (Biddle, Sr.) from the Batsto iron works to Philadelphia. Charles Thomson, secretary to the Congress, retained financial interest in the Batsto operation. ----------------- "Philadelphia: a 300 Year History. Page 130; Owen Biddle listed as Chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of War, announced that a Committee of Fifty had been formed to remocve from the city all equipment and provisions that might aid the British. (Owen Biddle, Sr.) ----------------- PA Gazette 11/1/1775 - #21201 Owen Biddle re-appointed to Committee of Safety by Assembly. (Owen Biddle, Sr.) PA Gazette 8/28/1775 - #20833 At election at State House, Silas Engles was elected to represent Southwark in the Committee for the City of Philadelphia. Owen Biddle elected to represent the City; Isaac Coats for the Northern Liberties. PA Gazette 5/8/1776 - #22133 Owen Biddle elected one of four burgesses of the city. PA Gazette 7/10/1776 - #24555 Owen Biddle elected as a representative of Philadelphia at the Provincial Convention. PA Gazette 9/4/1776 - #22731 Owen Biddle appointed a Justice of the Peace under the new Pennsylvania Constitution. PA Gazette 4/23/1777 - #23594 William Managing Committee Minutesullin on committee of 50 established by Pennsylvania War Office to work between Trenton and Philadelphia to "collect provisions and stores useful to the enemy or that may be necessary to the Army of the U.S.." Owen Biddle is chairman of War Office. (Sr.) PA Gazette 3/17/1784 - #285 An executor for sale of various properties. PA Gazette 1/3/1798 - #12554 Owen Biddle one of signers of document submitted from Society of Friends complaining of various "nuisances disturbing Sabbath observances." Complaint was to Assembly and Mayor. He signed for the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting. William Garrigues signed for the Northern District. email 4/24: John Ulrich 215-882-3415 211 Fitzwater Street Philadelphia PA 19147 ancestor_info: William Ashton 7 May 1734- 24 Sep 1800. Descendant through his daughter Mary (Ashton) Keller. message: We're hoping to visit Carpenter's Hall tomorrow - Thursday April 25, 2012. William Ashton is listed as a member from 1770 to 1795 when he was expelled. If possible, I'd be interested in learning why he was expelled. I just sent an earlier request, but was curious whether a book - "The Young Carpenter's Assistant or A System of Architecture Adapted to the Style of the United States" published in 1815 by Owen Biddle is in any way connected to Carpenter's Hall response 4/29 Mr. Ulrich First I apologize for not answering your email request prior to your visiting Carpenters' Hall last Thursday. I do hope you found your visit interesting and helpful. The reason William Ashton was expelled is not listed in our records. The usual reason is non-payment of dues not some legal issue. Our member database has no information on his family and for this reason I suggest you contact the Pennsylvania genealogical Society through the website of the Pennsylvania Historical Society at 13th and Locust Streets here in Philadelphia. There are a number of Ashton families listed in Philadelphia and they will be able to give you details about each one. Your second question concerning Owen Biddle's book The Young Carpenters' Assistant has more than one answer. He published the book in the early 19th century with plans to open an architecture school in Philadelphia with The Carpenters' Company. Unfortunately he died at an early age. When The Company moved to develop and offer such a school John Haviland used this book with updates as the basis for instruction. On The Carpenters' Hall website you will find numerous articles that relate history to the Company. First click on History and then move down to More History to find the article First School of Architecture near the end of this listing. This will summarize the role that Biddle's book played in this first school. The Hall Library is not open for use but the Athenaeum of Philadelphia library on 6th Street just south of Walnut does have a copy available for you to see. I suggest a phone call to arrange for your visit. I wish you the best in exploring your ancestors

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Revolutionary War