Monday, May 6, 2013

The House that Pierce & Bickford Built

by Rachel Dworkin

Over the years, Chemung County has been home to many architects, but our most famous local firm is that of Hiram H. Bickford (1855-1932) and Joseph H. Pierce (1863-1929).  The pair joined forces in 1891 and together they designed a wide range of buildings throughout the Twin Tiers.

Joseph Pierce was the senior partner of the pair, having worked as an architect in Elmira since 1880.  From 1883 to 1890, Pierce worked with Otis Dockstader, primarily designing churches and homes.  One of their more famous local buildings is Elmira’s First Baptist Church, built in 1890.  They dissolved the partnership over a dispute regarding professional ethics in the spring of 1890.  Little is known about Hiram Bickford before he came to work for Pierce & Dockstader, except that he had worked as a draftsman at a number of firms throughout the Northeast.     

The firm worked on a wide range of buildings from residential to religious, commercial to civic.  Their work on public buildings was characterized by a sophisticated and varied treatment of historical styles.  For those of you who are, like me, not architects, that means that they liked to design buildings to have elements that made them look like they were from another time period.  The Elmira City Hall, for example, looks very much like a Renaissance style building which, in turn, rips off a lot of stylistic elements from Greco-Roman designs.  Personally, I just think it’s pretty.  

Pierce & Bickford also designed a number of private residences throughout the area.  Unlike their public buildings which had a clear and consistent “look,” their residential designs tended to cater to the personal style of the original client. 

All told, the pair built several hundred buildings and designed the renovations for many more, including 415 E. Water Street.  If you are interested in seeing examples of their draft work, the Booth Library has blueprints and concept drawings for a number of their buildings including Elmira City Hall, 415 E. Water, the S.F. Iszard’s Building and the home of Mr. R.E. Kinsman among others.  For those interested in a more in-depth look at their lives and their work, we have the book Architects of Standing: Pierce & Bickford, Elmira, N.Y. 1890-1932 available for purchase in our gift shop.   


  1. By the way, what's in 415 E. Water now?

    Thanks for this informative piece.

  2. Have you ever seen Elmira City Hall??? You are trying to tell me that this was built in 2 years, in the 1880s, with no power tools??? There are no photos of construction?? There are no articles in newspapers from the time about it's construction? There is only one photo of Pierce and Bickford??

    That is just one of their projects that it is impossible to believe.

  3. Thank you for your comments.It is incredible to think about all the things people accomplished before they had the tools we have now. And yet somehow they managed!