William H. Reasin was born in 1816 or 1817, in the Halls’ Cross Roads (now Aberdeen) vicinity of Harford County, Maryland. He was the son of William Dulin Reasin and Sarah Ashby Jones Reasin.
He married Hannah E. Cole (1825-1905) and had four children. By 1847, this Harford County native was living in Baltimore and practicing architecture. His father is believed to have been a carpenter as well as a planter but we have no information about William H. Reasin’s architectural training. He was an early practitioner in the use of architectural cast iron for commercial buildings in the city.
When he died after an illness of about a year on March 3 1867, he was living at his country residence on Glenville Road between Churchville and Darlington, visiting his Baltimore office about once a week by way of rail. He is buried in the Spesutia Church yard, St. George’s Parish in Harford County with several generations of his family.
In c. 1849 Reasin began advertising with partner Thomas P. Chiffelle. In 1849 they designed Baltimore Cemetery, the cemetery layout, the castle gatehouse, original Gothic chapel (no longer standing) and the Egyptian-revival mausoleum.
In the early 1850s, Reasin was in partnership with Samuel B. Wetherald (Wetherall) and George A. Frederick noted in his Recollections that they “did quite a large amount of work here.” Reasin is frequently credited as the architect in references and no references to Wetherald working alone have been found. In the last few years of his practice, his partner was Daniel Crummer (Krummer) who succeeded him. Crummer died on October 5, 1868.
He was a member of and teacher at the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanical Arts (now the Maryland Institute College of Art) whose building he designed in 1851, probably his largest and most important work, destroyed in the Baltimore Fire of 1904. He was also the local representative of James Bogardus and Robert G. Hatfield of New York for the construction of the Sun Iron Building in 1850, where he had his office for his entire career.
Because of its visibility today, Reasin’s best known work is probably the Independent Fire Company or No. 6 Engine House on Orleans Street (1853). Also in 1853 he designed the former Trinity Episcopal Church, still standing on Broadway and Pratt Streets. The Samuel Shoemaker house (1853) still stands at 901 St. Paul St. In 1856, he designed Noah Walker’s Washington Building on E. Baltimore Street, frequently illustrated but no longer standing. The Washington statue from the corner of this building is now in a niche in Druid Hill Park. He also designed Noah Walker’s residence, Dumbarton, in Pikesville, still standing but extensively renovated.
The Friendship Hebrew congregation’s Oheb Israel Synagogue was Reasin’s first known work (1847) formerly on Eden Street between Baltimore and Lombard Streets. In 1860, he designed an extension of Robert Carey Long Jr.’s Lloyd Street Synagogue, adding two bays to the east, precisely reproducing its original details. He designed the James Carey country residence, The Mount in 1864, still standing and recently restored and adapted to a new use.
To date, we know over 60 documented works by William H. Reasin including commercial, institutional, religious, and residential buildings in Baltimore and his native Harford County.
Frank E. Davis once styled himself as William H. Reasin’s successor.
The image above is of a bas-relief carved in marble, by family tradition the work of William Henry Rinehart. Reasin and Rinehart were on the early faculty of the Maryland Institute. Valued at $35 in the inventory of Reasin’s personal property after his death, this “gilt frame glass marble plate & brackets” was the most valuable item in his residence.
Upon Reasin’s death in 1867, Thomas Dixon inventoried his office contents, listing each of his books by approximate title and author. This is a unique and valuable insight into a mid-19th century architect’s personal library. All were purchased by his partner Daniel Crummer who died not long after Reasin, and we do not know the books’ disposition.
An Inventory of the Goods and Chattels [of William H. Reasin’s Office, 26 April 1867]:
- One pine book case grained
- One pine table
- One pine desk with Drawers
- One pine desk
- Three chairs
- Six drawing boards
- One pine case
- One port folio stand
- Case and Instruments old
- Loudon’s Architecture
- Eubank’s Hydraulics & Mechanics
- Latrobe’s Justice
- Ruskin’s Lectures on Archt.
- Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Archt.
- 5 vol. Ruskin’s Modern Painters
- American House Carpenters
- Vaux’s Villas & Cottages
- Wheeler’s Rural Houses
- 4 vol. Horticulturist
- Street’s Archt. Of Italy
- Rickman’s Gothic Archt.
- 3 vol. Glossary of Architecture
- Brooks’ Archt.
- American Cemeteries
- Fergusson’s Jerusalem
- Liebig’s Agricultural Chemistry
- Tuthill’s History of Architecture
- Wilkinson’s On Color & Taste
- Barlow on Materials & Construction
- Builders’ Guide
- Pugin’s Gothic Ornament
- Chapman’s Drawing Book
- 2 vol. Belgium Illustrated
- 2 vol. France Illustrated
- Building Chronicle
- 2 vol. Pugin’s Gothic Archt.
- The Principle of Beauty in Art
- Brandon’s Parish Churches
- 2 vol. Ure’s Dictionary
- The American Cottage Builder
- Downing’s Country Houses
- Downing’s Rural Essays
- Downing’s Landscape Gardening
- Weights & Measures
- Hall’s Designs
- Seats & Mansions of Scotland
- Brandon’s Roofs [of the] Middle Ages
- 2 vol. Colling’s Details Gothic Archt.
- 3 vol. Winkle’s English Cathedrals
- 3 vol. Ruskin’s Stones of Venice
- Chambers’ Decorative Archt.
- Poneston’s Public Buildings
- Traveler’s Club House
- The Baronial Halls
- 10 vol. paper covers, on Warming, Ventilation, etc
- Hay’s on Harmonious Coloring
- Mechanics Calculator
- Manual on Geology
- 2 vol. Iconographic Encyclopoedia
- Brown’s Domestic Architecture
- 2 vol. Archt. Mechanic’s Journal
- Owens’ Hints on Public Archt.
- Meyer’s Universum
- Nicholson’s Builders Directory
- 2 vol. Sloan’s Architecture
- Carpentry Geometrical, Practical & Construction
- 4 vol. Quarterly Papers on Architecture
- 24 numbers of the Builder
- 43 Numbers of the Architecture Sketch Book
- Gotman’s Antiquities of Normandy
- 2 vol. Knight’s Ecclesiastical Archt. Of Italy
- Scrap Book
- Misc. Prints & papers
- 7 Drawings, Portfolio
- 25 Pictures & Frames
- Lot of Drawings
- Lot Old Books
- 1 Plaster Groups
- 1 Roll Detail Paper
The Inventory is among Reasin’s estate papers in the Register of Wills office, Harford County Court House, Bel Air, MD.
Office furniture and books were in Reasin’s Baltimore office in the Sun Iron Building while the balance of the inventory was in his retirement residence between Havre de Grace and Darlington (today’s address 1722 Glenville Road, Havre de Grace). This portion of the inventory was made by C. M Jameson and Thomas Dixon and witnessed by Daniel Crummer, Reasin’s partner who purchased this entire lot for $277.75. We do not know how Reasin acquired his library nor do we know its final disposition after Crummer’s death about a year and a half later.