Charles Follen McKim, Influence and Architecture

Architect of the Gilded Age (1847-1909)

Sepia portrait of 19th century architect Charles Follen McKim by Frances Benjamin Johnston
Portrait of 19th century architect Charles Follen McKim by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Image LC-DIG-ds-04713, Johnston Collection, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Div. (crop)

With his partners Stanford White and William R. Mead, architect Charles Follen McKim designed grand Beaux Arts buildings, important mansions, and also relaxed Shingle Style homes. As the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, these three architects brought European nobility and taste to America's nouveau riche.

Background of McKim:

Born: August 24, 1847 in Chester County, Pennsylvania

Died: September 14, 1909 at his summer home in St. James, Long Island, New York


  • 1866-1867: Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
  • 1867-1870: Studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris


  • 1867: Worked briefly in the New York office of Russel Sturgis
  • 1870: Joined the office of Henry Hobson Richardson
  • 1877: Partnered with William R. Mead
  • 1879: Stanford White joined the partnership and the influential architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White was established

Important Projects:

McKim, Mead, & White designed both relaxed summer homes and grand public buildings. Landmark examples of McKim's influential designs include these:

  • 1881-1883: Isaac Bell House in Newport, Rhode Island
  • 1887-1895: Boston Public Library
  • 1894: New York Herald Building
  • 1897: Low Memorial Library, Columbia University, New York City
  • 1906: Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City
  • 1910: Pennsylvania Station, New York City

Styles Associated with McKim:

More About McKim:

Charles Follen McKim was influenced by his study at Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Along with his partners Stanford White and William R. Mead, McKim applied French Beaux Arts ideas to grand American buildings like the Boston Public Library and Pennsylvania Station in New York City. These historic styles were not associated with the new architecture of the day—the skyscraper—so the firm did not tackle skyscrapers. However, after McKim's death, the firm built the 40-floor Municipal Building (1914) in Lower Manhattan.

McKim was drawn to the clean lines of American Colonial architecture, and he admired the simple architecture of Japan and rural France. The architectural firm McKim, Mead, & White became known for informal, open plan Shingle Style houses designed shortly after the partnership was formed. They could also transition into designing the more opulent styles prevalent in Newport, Rhode Island. McKim and White became the design architects of the firm, while Mead administered much of the firm's business.

What Others Say:

" McKim's formal training and innate sobriety provided clarity of form to which White added richness of texture and plasticity in ornamentation."—Professor Leland M. Roth, Architectural Historian

Learn More:

  • Archives: The Charles Follen McKim papers,1838-1929, are held at the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (PDF)
  • Americans in Paris: Foundations of America's Architectural Gilded Age by Jean Paul Carlhian and Margot M. Ellis, Rizzoli, 2014
  • Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White: Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class in America's Gilded Age by Mosette Broderick, Knopf, 2010
  • Making of the Morgan from Charles McKim to Renzo Piano by Paul S. Byard, Morgan Library & Museum, 2008

Source: McKim, Mead, and White by Leland M. Roth, Master Builders, Diane Maddex, ed., Preservation Press, Wiley, 1985, p. 95