The legacy of

Wallace A. Rayfield

Rayfield designed more than 400 buildings in 20 states.

This included his own home at 105 1st Avenue South in Titusville.

The Live on 1st homes are named after the prolific architect Wallace A. Rayfield. Born in 1873, he is known as one of the first Black architects in the United States.

At least 300 of the buildings he designed, like Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, are still standing. Rayfield designed and built his own home in Titusville at 105 1st Avenue South.

"He is the quintessence of modesty and affability, and enjoys the distinction of being one of the most popular men and one of the most eminent Negro architects of the South."

-Beacon Lights of the Race, by G. P. HAMILTON, 1911

Photo by Ritu Jethani


Born in Macon, Georgia

According to G.P. Hamilton's 1911 book, "Beacon Lights of the Race," Rayfield was born May 10, 1873, in Macon, Georgia. After graduating high school, he attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. and later became a student at Pratt Polytechnic Institute's Architecture Department. Following graduation from Pratt, he attended Columbia University.

Hamilton writes, "He studied in that splendid school for

one year, completed the course of instruction and received from that institution the degree of Bachelor of Architecture in the year of



Meeting Booker T. Washington

While studying at Columbia, Rayfield met B.T. Washington. The educator offered Rayfield a teaching job at Tuskeegee Normal and Industrial Institute. The young architect started soon after graduation in 1899 and remained there for 10 years.

Hamilton says of Rayfield's next steps saying, "He was faithful to his trust while connected with the school, and might have remained indefinitely in that position if his eyes had not been opened to greater financial opportunities in other lines of business."


Finding work in Birmingham

"He resolved to abandon the teachers' profession

and enter the arena of business life on his own responsibility

in the city of Birmingham,Ala," Hamilton continues. "He moved to the city of Birmingham and brought with him the best of testimonials from Dr. Washington certifying to the subject's ability."

He secured a "forty-dollar job" on the first day of opening his business.

This photo was first published in G. P. Hamilton's 1911 book.

A Rayfield advertisement

An ad from the 1919American Baptist Year-Book, published by the American Baptist Publication Society, Northern Baptist Convention.

Smithfield Baptist Church

W.A. Rayfield & Co. designed Trinity Baptist Church in the Smithfield Neighborhood of Birmingham. This photo was first published in G. P. Hamilton's 1911 book.

People's AME Zion Church

Wallace Rayfield designed and built People’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church with architect Charles Erastus Colton in 1911. CAROL M. HIGHSMITH LIBRARY OF CONGRESS


Love & Marriage

Rayfield met his first wife, Jennie Hutchins, while teaching at Tuskegee. Hutchins was a student from Clarksville, Tennessee, according to Hamilton. They had one daughter, Edith, who according to Rayfield biographer Allen Durough, "successfully completed college and taught school at Council Elementary in Ensley, Alabama."

Rayfield's first wife died in 1929. He remarried in 1932 to Bessie Fulwood Rogers. The couple lived in her home at 328 Iota Avenue, close to the home he had built for himself in the Titusville neighborhood.


Lost & Found

While many of Rayfield's buildings still stand, the design work he did was lost until 1993. Allen R. Durough was preparing to tear down a barn on his property in Bessemer. He found metal boxes stacked in the last room. Durough wrote about the discovery in his 2010 book, "The Architectural Legacy of Wallace A. Rayfield."

"I discovered they contained metal printing plates," he says. "I saw beautiful drawings of churches, schools and other buildings."

Durough went on to research Rayfield's life, writing the Great Depression took a toll on the architect's business.

"Plagued by declining economic fortunes, Rayfield suffered a paralytic stroke and died February 28, 1941."

He is buried in the Greenwood/Woodlawn Cemetery in Birmingham.

Photos from Durough's 2010 book.

Navigate Affordable Housing Partners is a Birmingham-based nonprofit that actively works to enhance all aspects of the housing industry to ensure that people have access to quality, livable housing choices. We develop, own, and manage housing properties and serve as a federal government contractor and consultant to housing agencies.



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