Dawson, Alonzo N. (1854–1923)

By: Robert J. Robertson

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: April 7, 2018

Alonzo N. Dawson, architect, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on January 18, 1854. He married Carrie Rickard in 1878 in Paris, Texas, and they had two children. Dawson, who lived in Fort Worth and later in Houston, had a twenty-five-year career that covered the end of the Romanesque Revival period and the beginnings of new architectural styles such as the Neoclassical. He produced a number of significant churches and public buildings in which he demonstrated his competence with Romanesque Revival stonework and displayed a skillful eclecticism by including design elements from such other styles as Gothic and Norman.

Early in his career Dawson designed two buildings in Johnson County, the Cleburne Public School (1883) and the Johnson County Jail (1884). The two-story masonry jail was built on a T plan to house iron and steel cell blocks constructed elsewhere. From 1885 to 1900 Dawson lived and practiced in Fort Worth. He entered a brief partnership in 1885 with Marshall R. Sanguinet, a prominent Fort Worth architect, and helped plan Ann Waggoner Hall at Polytechnic College of the Methodist Episcopal Church (now Texas Wesleyan College), Fort Worth. Waggoner Hall, a three-story Queen Anne-style structure, housed all functions of the college except the men's dormitories. Later, working as supervising architect, Dawson directed construction of the First Baptist Church, Fort Worth (1887–89), a Gothic Revival structure designed by Illinois architects Bullard and Bullard. The Fort Worth church included rusticated limestone walls, rounded towers, and Gothic windows, features that Dawson incorporated later in churches in Beaumont and Houston.

He won design competitions for important buildings such as the Archer County Courthouse (1892–93), for which his plan was selected over twenty-five others. This building is constructed in the Romanesque Revival style, with limestone walls, rounded-arch openings, and convex roofs. In another competition Dawson defeated well known Texas architects J. Riely Gordon and Messer, Sanguinet, and Messer for design of the Fort Worth City Hall (1892–93), a massive three-story building with Romanesque stone walls, Spanish tile roofs, and a monumental tower rising to the height of seven stories.

In 1900 Dawson moved to Houston, where he lived for over twenty years and designed churches and residences. In 1902–03 he traveled to Beaumont to produce the First Baptist Church, a building in which he blended medieval styles-Romanesque stonework enriched with Norman stair towers and stained-glass Gothic windows. The church, adapted for use as a library, is known as Tyrell Historical Library.

In 1904 Dawson directed construction of the First Baptist Church in Houston, a structure reminiscent of the earlier Fort Worth church and bearing a close resemblance to the Beaumont church. The same year, also in Houston, he produced a neoclassical building for the Tuam Avenue Baptist Church (now South Main Baptist Church). With its temple-like façade of Corinthian columns, pediment, and balustraded parapet, the extant Tuam Avenue structure was adapted in 1920 for use as a laundry and dry-cleaning establishment. Another Houston church designed by Dawson was the Cumberland Presbyterian. Constructed on the popular Akron floor plan, this frame church was cast in English country style and had square towers with battlements. Among the Houston residences designed by Dawson was one for T. F. Loftus, a two-story colonial structure with tall columns. Dawson died on April 27, 1923, of apoplexy and was buried at Forest Park Cemetery, Houston.

Mary Anna Crary Anderson, "Tyrell Public Library: History of the Site and the Building," Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record 6 (November 1970). Houston Architectural Survey (6 vols., Houston: Southwest Center for Urban Research, 1980–81). Houston Daily Post, October 2, 1905, November 7, 1909. Willard B. Robinson, Gone from Texas: Our Lost Architectural Heritage (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981). Willard B. Robinson, The People's Architecture: Texas Courthouses, Jails, and Municipal Buildings (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1983). Willard B. Robinson and Todd Webb, Texas Public Buildings of the Nineteenth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1974).

  • Architecture
  • Architects
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Houston
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert J. Robertson, “Dawson, Alonzo N.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dawson-alonzo-n.

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December 1, 1994
April 7, 2018

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