George Archer was born at his family’s farm Allendale (which still stands north of Churchville in Harford County) on March 7, 1848. The Archer family had long been in Harford County, many of its members being lawyers and physicians.
The family’s church was the Churchville Presbyterian Church. His father, Thomas, was a farmer and schoolmaster for his and his neighbors’ children in those days before the establishment of public schools. The stone school house still stands behind the dwelling house and a stone addition has a carved inscription “G.A. 1868,” perhaps George’s first architectural work.
Like many others in his family before and after him, George Archer entered the College of New Jersey at Princeton (which we now know as Princeton University) in 1867 as a sophomore. His Princeton record indicates that his father prepared him for college. The records include his application and graduation photographs, and a photo submitted for his 20th reunion. Also included are his place of his college residence (West Hall), the courses he took, and his grades. He graduated in 1870 and received his Master’s degree 1873. He and J. B. Noel Wyatt were the first two Baltimore architects to receive American college degrees, both in 1873.
After Princeton, he entered the employment of George A. Frederick where he remained until March 1875, when he opened his office in the same building, the former Lorman house (designed by Robert Carey Long, Sr.) on the SE corner of Charles and Lexington Streets, which Frederick had remodeled for the Central Savings Bank with offices above. Several architects and the Baltimore Chapter of the American Institute of Architects had offices there. He joined the AIA the year he opened his office, and was elevated to Fellowship in 1885.
He said he received his first commission the day he opened his office. The only 1875 commission we know was his remodeling of Christ Episcopal Church near Forest Hill in his native Harford County, built of stone in 1805 in a late 18th century style. Archer remodeled it to a successful Ecclesiological Gothic design. That was soon followed in 1878 with Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Churchville near his birthplace. It is an imaginative Ecclesiological Gothic design of local stone in the Early English style.
His 1881 First Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, also Gothic Revival, is one of the few historic buildings “signed” by the architect on the datestone. For the 1882 Perryville Presbyterian Church in Cecil County, he provided a perfect Ecclesiological Gothic church in board-and-batten. For a Scots-Irish congregation in East Baltimore, the Abbot Chapel of 1882 includes all parish facilities in three stories on a small lot.
The Friends Gospel Mission (now Salvation Army) at 1010 Light Street in Baltimore, is in an imaginative design of 1880. The high visibility of the Denny & Mitchell building on the NW corner of North Avenue and Howard Street might be Archer’s most visible building.
The white marble chateauesque Graham-Hughes house of 1888 on N. Washington Place at Madison Street is perhaps his residential masterpiece. It was followed the next year by the Breesee house at 6 W. Mt. Vernon Place, a new interior and rock-faced white marble front façade in the Romanesque style, bringing one of the original houses in Mt. Vernon Place up-to-date from its Greek revival origin. The Clotworthy house at 1205 Eutaw Place has a full brownstone façade, a late use for this material in 1891.
Two houses in Sudbrook Park are of an imaginative colonial cottage design. The Walters Bath in 1901 on Washington Blvd., and Rice Hall (1902) for the College of Notre Dame are careful renditions in the Colonial revival style. The Schloss building at 5 E. Lexington Street (1904) is in a careful Flemish design, its bold steep stepped gable facing the street.
Archer was among several local architects who implemented Cabot & Chandler’s plans for Johns Hopkins Hospital under John R. Niernsee. His drawings are signed GA. Johns Hopkins Hospital remained an important client for the rest of his life; he designed several later buildings including the School of Medicine, the Hunterian Laboratories, and the Brady Wing which still stands.
His clients included Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, residences, banks, educational and institutional facilities, business and industrial structures. Archer’s design competence put him at ease in all the styles of the day: the Gothic, the Renaissance, the Romanesque, the Queen Anne, the Colonial, the Palladian. He maintained his office in the Central Savings Bank building for the rest of his life. Raymond Allen joined him as a partner about 1904, perhaps as a result of increased business due to the Baltimore fire.
In an 1893 interview, Archer stated that “architects, like poets, are born, not made.” He apparently regretted an absence of architectural courses at Princeton for he said, “The colleges are paying more attention to the study of architecture each year and there are some . . . which pay particular attention to it,” naming the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He continued, “drafting is, of course, very essential, and the knowledge of mathematics is one of the greatest qualifications . . . combined with a knowledge of engineering and with practical experience.” He did not mention the importance of artistic talent which he possessed in abundance.
Archer never married. He lived on Division Street and later at the Albany Apartments, 6 E. Centre Street and he maintained ownership of his grandfather’s farm Paradice near Churchville, as a country residence.
In his will he left his estate to his brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces, and his business to his partner Raymond Allen who continued to practice architecture for more than 15 years. He died 6 January 1920 and he is buried at the Churchville Presbyterian Church in Harford County among dozens of his family on all sides in many generations.