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Meet George Washington Maher (pronounced Mayer)!
Shown left above is our Favorite 1907 Maher designed home in a north Chicago suburb. Note the rectangular box frame with sloped corners, a large overhanging pitched roof and the front entry with a segmented arch over the doorway, all frequent architectural elements of Maher's designs.
George was born in Mill Creek in the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia in 1864, 3 years before his contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Maher family soon moved to New Albany, IN but by 1883 George at 19 was living in Chicago working for an architectural firm. 4 years later he was working for Joseph Silsbee as a draftsman alongside Frank Lloyd Wright and George Grant Elmslie. Maher became experienced with designing Shingle Style residences and became inspired by the work of Henry Hobson Richardson.
In 1888 Maher started his own practice, had a short partnership with Cecil Corwin and then was on his own. In 1893 he married Elizabeth Brooks and they moved to Kenilworth, a north suburb of Chicago. He and his wife moved into one of about 40 homes he had designed in the area. Maher had become prolific and was responsible for the enclave of homes on Hutchinson Street on Chicago’s north side. Also having met J L Cochran, a Chicago north side developer, Maher gained notoriety designing houses for Edgewater, now also part of Chicago’s north side.
Maher was also a writer and a founding member of the Chicago Arts & Crafts Society. Maher also absorbed some of the architectural designs of Sullivan and Elmslie and he was a leader in the Chicago Architectural Club which was the birthplace of the Chicago (later Prairie) School.
While Wright had established himself with the design of the River Forest Winslow House in 1893-94, Maher topped that with his 1897 commission to design the Farson House (Pleasant Home) in Oak Park. This structure is regarded as one of the earliest Prairie style homes and became an inspiration for many additional Prairie School design homes in the Midwest. Maher was ahead of Wright in the use of the Prairie School idiom. Very independent in his practice, he continued designing well know houses in the Chicago area to include the Rubens estate in Glencoe where he worked with Jens Jensen who designed the landscape.
Maher also admired and studied European Arts & Crafts designs and was aware of the Vienna Secessionist Movement.
And just like Wright who used a design theme that he carried throughout a commission to include interior furnishings, fabrics, landscaping et al, Maher did likewise.
While Wright was designing the 1910-11 Robie House on Chicago’s south side, Maher was designing the Rockledge Estate for the King Family on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in Minnesota. The King family owned the Watkins Medical Company so Maher also became designer for the Watkins Office Building and Warehouses and the Winona Savings Bank.
Maher’s son Phillip joined the practice and together they designed multiple buildings and landscapes in the Chicago and Gary IN area.
George died in 1926.
Shown left to right above are various Maher commissions: Maher's own Honeymoon House in Kenilworth, the Farson Home (Pleasant Home) in Oak Park, the Patten Home in Evanston and The Patten Gymnasium on Northwestern University Campus in Evanston, The Rockledge Summer Home near Winona Minnesota and the Seymour Home on Hutchinson Street in Chicago. Only the Maher, Pleasant and Seymour Homes are extant.
Comments on The Prairie School
The term "Prairie School" is a broad term which applies to a design aesthetic that started about 1900 in Chicago in response to the Arts & Crafts movement migrating from Europe and the East Coast. Some of the Chicago Arts & Crafts Society charter membership went on to become the more famous Prairie School architects.
A group of young architects with shared offices in the Chicago Loop’s Steinway Hall devised an architectural style universally applicable to residential, civic, commercial and ecclesiastical projects. The most notable practitioner was Frank Lloyd Wright, but the group also included Walter Burley Griffin and his wife to be Marion Mahony, Robert C. Spencer, Webster Tomlinson, Dwight H. Perkins and the brothers Irving and Allen Pond. Other contemporaries included George Grant Elmslie, William Gray Purcell, Barry Byrne, Hugh M. G. Garden, William E. Drummond, Myron Hunt, Thomas E. Tallmadge, Vernon Watson, Percy Dwight Bentley, Parker N. Berry, George Washington Maher, Arthur Huenn, George Dean, Howard Van Doren Shaw and others.
Most of these architects crossed paths repeatedly and they even rendered each other assistance should one of them have a lucrative commission. Then there was the Chicago Architectural Club which at that time had as many as 120 members. Following its exhibit in 1902 at the Chicago Art Institute, the group began to scatter throughout the Midwest. What had been known as the "Chicago School" became the "Prairie School" with architectural firms practicing the idiom also in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. There were the firms of Niedecken-Walbridge in Milwaukee, Claude & Starck in Madison, Purcell & Elmslie in Minneapolis, Percy Bentley in LaCrosse and others.
One of the tenants of the Prairie School was the consistency of a design theme within a project. If a poppy was the theme, it could be found in the mosaic of the fireplace surround, the fabrics of the house, the tableware silver and yes, even in the art glass windows and doors. And each architect has his own design characteristic; an experienced Prairie School fan can look at a house and exclaim... "oh that's Purcell & Elmslie." From start to finish the Prairie School paralleled the Arts & Crafts movement reaching its zenith in the early teens and succumbing to the newer designs brought about by the social issues connected with World War I.