Rudolph Zerses Gill
Information on this page was provided by Dr. Brian Adams
Rudolph Zerses Gill, nicknamed “Doll”, was born in Urbana on May 17, 1866. He was the son of Zachariah and Hannah Gill. Zachariah E. Gill, a carpenter and architect who located in Urbana in 1852. Z.E. Gill designed and built the I.B. & W. roundhouse, several freight houses, “…and was the builder of several of the finest blocks in the city of Urbana”. Rudolph Gill married Nellie Martha Maxwell of Knoxville, Tennessee on October 10, 1889. The couple had two children: Rudolph Zerses Gill, Jr. and Frederick Maxwell Gill. Existing records indicate Rudolph Gill was most active in central Illinois in the late 19th century. By the early 20th century, R.Z. Gill began securing contracts in St. Louis, southeast Missouri, and southern Illinois. Gill was a member of the Elks, Knights of Pythias, and the Masons. He died November 5, 1951 in Murphysboro, Illinois. Surviving examples of Gill’s works indicate his early residences were executed in Queen Anne style, while his public and municipal buildings were designed in the Romanesque Revival style. Later, he designed in Classical Revival and Modern styles.
R.Z. Gill graduated with a degree in architecture from the University of Illinois in 1887, studying under Nathan C. Ricker. Following graduation, Gill was employed by the renowned firms of Holabird & Roche of Chicago and Frank S. Allen of Joliet, ca. 1887 to 1893. Holabird & Roche was founded in 1881 by William Holabird and Martin Roche and was an integral part of the “Chicago School” that developed the skyscraper. Frank Shaver Allen was a renowned architect in Joliet, Illinois who eventually specialized in the design of schools.
From Chicago, Gill moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he established the firm R.Z. Gill and Company Architects and Engineers, which operated until 1893 and designed buildings constructed in Tennessee and North Carolina. He also worked for the American Association of London, England, which built several towns and developed iron and coal interests in Kentucky, southern Tennessee and Virginia. In Knoxville, Gill was recognized as “…a man of superior abilities in his profession…” Gill is credited with introducing the style of building know as “flats” to Knoxville, and specialized in hotels and public buildings. Among his projects here were a Queen Anne residence for S.B. Luttrell, the Ross block of flats. In addition, he designed a residence for W.H. Pace in Raleigh, North Carolina and the Cumberland Hotel in Harriman, Tennessee.
Gill returned to Urbana from Knoxville, Tennessee in 1893, and from 1896 to 1898 served as Urbana City Engineer and City Treasurer. Between 1894 and about 1905 Gill was designing buildings in east-central Illinois. Until about 1900, he was partnered with Frederick G. Brown. Brown who was born in Urbana in 1872, studied architecture at the University of Illinois and later teamed with Urbana architect Joseph William Royer to design the Champaign County Courthouse in 1900. From Urbana, Gill designed several public, municipal, and commercial buildings in east central Illinois. In 1895, he designed the Allerton Library in Monticello, Illinois. This imposing structure, which also included a town hall and opera house, was built with the aid of local business tycoon Samuel Allerton, who agreed to provide funds for furniture, books, periodicals, and other needed items if the citizens of Monticello Township would raise the money necessary to construct the building. A successful campaign resulted in the collection of tax money to purchase a lot and fund construction of the building. On July 13, 1896, Gill was awarded the contract for the building and ground was broken in July of that year. The building, which cost $18,000 to construct, opened in the summer of 1897. It was built in Romanesque Revival style. The building still stands, with the exception of the top of the tall tower on the southwest corner, which partially collapsed due to the constant vibrations of extensive nearby railroad traffic. In the spring of 1898, Gill was working on plans for a new laundry for C.A. Heebe on a lot immediately west of the C.N. Clark marble works on Main Street in Urbana. This same year, Gill drew up plans for a two-story office building at the corner of Main and Race streets, behind the S.H. Busey building. Soon after this, Gill was hired to design a new high school for Urbana. This building, named Thornburn High School, was also built in Romanesque Revival Style and was formerly located at the intersection of Springfield Avenue and McCullough Street. It was vacated around 1914 to be replaced by the new Royer-designed high school. Between 1898 and 1901, Gill designed additional school buildings for Philo, Colfax, Arthur, and Forrest, Illinois. Gill’s Ford County Almshouse and Poor House was built immediately north of Paxton in 1897 and occupied approximately 116 acres. This brick building, which has been razed, had three stories with 50 rooms, a basement and attic. There were also several outbuildings including a barn, tool house, slaughterhouse and sheds, as well as livestock and machinery. In 1898, Gill designed the Merchant Hotel (later Hotel Douglas) in Tuscola. This same year, he designed a tavern for local businessman Arthur Alley on North Market Street in Urbana.
Gill also designed several residences between about 1895 and 1905 in Urbana-Champaign, Sidney, and Clinton. Notable among his Urbana residences is the “Lindley House” at 312 West Green Street, now housing a bed and breakfast. This is magnificent example of the Queen Anne style. In 1899, construction of Gill’s residence for George Bennett, part owner of the Knowlton & Bennett drug store in downtown Urbana, was started at 209 West Green Street. Bennett occupied his new residence, also built in Queen Anne style, in September 1899. This house is still a single-family residence and retains a high degree of historic integrity. In 1898, Gill produced plans for a new $4,000 residence for Miss Frances Kerr on North Market Street.
Beginning in the spring of 1902, Gill began purchasing property in southwest Illinois, in Jackson County, approximately 200 miles from Urbana. This would seem to be the start of his eventual relocation to this part of the state. Already by 1901, he had a building contract in St. Louis, and by 1905 his business headquarters were located in this city, though he continued to maintain he intended to retain Urbana as his home and he seems to have commuted regularly between St. Louis and Urbana. Gill was working with Robert Merredith at this time, and supervised projects in nearby communities, such as O’Fallon in St. Clair County, Sparta. Records indicate Gill was especially active in Cape Girardeau, southeast Missouri, where he had several buildings under construction by the spring of 1905. In 1905, Gill teamed up with Urbana’s other architect, Joseph William Royer, to construct the Franklin County Jail and Sheriff residence in Benton, Illinois. To date, this is the only known project in which the two Urbana architects cooperated. Records indicate Royer designed the building, while R.Z. Gill’s company executed the concrete work.
Gill is not listed in the 1906 or subsequent Champaign County directories, indicating he was most likely no longer an Urbana resident by this time. In April 1907, the “Gill Block” or “Gill Estate” at the southeast corner of Main and Race streets in Urbana was sold to druggists Knowlton and Bennett for $25,000. Clearly by this time Gill was severing his remaining connections to Urbana.
The record of Gill’s projects conducted from his southern Illinois headquarters is incomplete. In 1916, his Murphysboro Elks Lodge (Classical Revival style) was constructed, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. His Masonic Lodge in the same city was completed in 1920. In 1933, Gill’s Mt. Zion Masonic Temple in West Plains (Howell County), Missouri, was completed. This brick building is an example of Classical Revival style and was listed on the National Register Historic Places in April 2011. In 1939, the Riverside Park Band Shell in Murphysboro was constructed. Gill designed this structure of white poured concrete in Modern style, with plain, curvilinear lines. It was funded by the WPA and the Murphysboro Park District, and has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.