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Male, US, born 1864-07-14, died 1931-01-17

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Ritchie, Willis, A., Architect

Professional History


A biography found in the Struve Scrapbook vol. 1, indicated: "After leaving school he pursued a regular course of studies under the directions of Supervising Architect Hill for a couple of years, and after ward was in the Government Architect's Office in Washington, form whence he went to Cincinnati and Toledo, where he was employed in the office of some of the leading men of the profession. He then opened an office in Lima, where he did a good business for two years, but receiving a tempting offer he went to Southern Kansas. That section of the country was 'booming' at that time, and Mr. Ritchie found a good field for professional work." (See "W.A. Ritchie," Henry G. Struve Scrapbook, vol. 1, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division, c. 1890-1891.)

Principal, Willis A. Ritchie, Architect, Lima, OH, 1883-1885.

Principal, Willis A. Ritchie and Company, Architects, Winfield, KS, 1885-1889.

Principal, Willis A. Ritchie, Architect, Seattle, WA, 1889-1894.

Principal, Willis A. Ritchie, Architect, Spokane, WA, 1894-1924.



Willis Ritchie was born in Van Wert, OH, in the rural northwestern part of the state, and spent his younger years in Lima, OH, about 27 miles away. Both cities were county capitals, of Van Wert and Allen Counties, and both had imposing county courthouses that may have left an impression on a young Willis. He appears to have relocated to Winfield, KS, c. 07/1885. Colonel E. C. Manning (1833-1915) purchased the land on which Winfield was platted from the Osage Tribe in 1870, and began to improve it as an agricultural center. (See "Manning Family, E.C. Manning. Some Facts: Colonel E.C. Manning,", Accessed 09/02/2014.) The entry of the Santa Fe Railroad into the city on 09/30/1879 greatly expanded markets for locally-grown wheat, and the city's geographic centrality brought four more railroads to town by 1887. Becoming a rail hub during the 1880s, triggered economic growth and construction. Ritchie came west to design the residence and a bank headquarters for a Mr. Eaton who lived in Winfield. (In 1883, the Farmer's Bank in Winfield had two Eatons as officers, John A. Eaton, Vice-President and Thomas J. Eaton, Cashier. See "Cowley County National Bank,"Accessed 07/25/2014.) Soon after his arrival and being one of the few qualified architects in town, Ritchie was appointed the City Engineer (on 11/05/1885) and took an active role in designing some of the city's most prominent new buildings, including an addition to the Central School (c. 1885), the first campus buildings for Southwestern College (established in 1885), and the $9,100 Winfield City Building (1885-1886), a combined courthouse and administrative center, two bridges (1886) and an opera house (1886). Demand for his services kept him busy in smaller towns around Winfield, as well. His industry was admired by Winfield's citizens, as a note in the Winfield Courier reflected: "Willis A. Ritchie left Tuesday, via the K. C. & S. W., for a holiday vacation with the folks at home, Lima, Ohio. He certainly returns with a splendid record, a remarkable amount of work caged in four months. He is one of the best architects in the west, and his abilities are being splendidly recognized. He will be back in two weeks." (See Bill Bottorff, "Willis A. Ritchie, Architect,"Accessed 07/25/2014.)

He relocated to Seattle, WA, c. 1889, the same year WA received statehood and a huge fire leveled most of Seattle's Pioneer Square, its central business district. (Spokane also experienced a significant fire in that year.) As WA was now a state, each county began to erect new county courthouses. Because of his success in KS competing for large public buildings, Ritchie won a string of county courthouse competitions, in King, Jefferson, Thurston and Spokane Counties, alienating him from his peers, who were probably envious of a newcomer's success. Ritchie resettled in the Spokane area during the design and construction of the remarkable Spokane courthouse, and practiced here for about 30 years before retirement. He died in Spokane on 01/17/1931.

Biographical Notes

The generally unreliable architectural biographer, Henry Withey, indicated Ritchie's birthdate to have been 1867, and his death date to have been 01/16/1931. These dates are suspect, as Withey also called him "William A. Ritchie." His surname was originally spelled "Richie," but he added a "t" to it when he reached Winfield, KS, from Lima, OH. In 11/1885, Ritchie received a letter of inquiry from two building contractors Uhl and Giel, of Cleveland, OH, who asked about building prospects in town. Attempting to be helpful, Ritchie gave them construction bid information on his primary project, the Winfield City Building; Uhl and Giel won the contract, and proceeded to drive established contractors out of business. Because they were newcomers both from OH, local contractors organized to boycott working with Ritchie, Uhl or Giel. By all accounts, Ritchie had hoped to settle in Winfield, and went to effort of relocating his sister, Ida, and brother, Walter, to the city in 1885 and 1886. Walter was to work in his brother's architectural office. Writing to the local newspaper on 04/15/1886, Ritchie stated: "One thing I want clearly understood by all is that I shall continue as I have in the past, 'to insist that Winfield men and labor shall be employed in all cases until there are no men out of work,' and then and not before shall I favor new laborers coming in. My interests are all in Winfield and I want to see everything and everyone about Winfield prosper, but I shall not concede one inch to any firm or firms who may consider it their duty to dictate how and what I shall do. Hoping that this explanation will prove satisfactory to those who have been mislead in this matter, will reconsider their unjustified actions, and that they will look to their own interests and not to the dictation of spiteful, prejudiced minds...." (See Bill Bottorff, "Willis A. Ritchie, Architect,"Accessed 07/25/2014.)

The boycott organized by "native" Winfield contractors probably poisoned relationships Ritchie had with local business leaders, and ultimately forced him to pack up and relocate to another growing community to the West. He arrived in Seattle, WA, c. 1889, although it is possible he left Winfield earlier and spent time scouting out a promising new location. Once he arrived, he again threw himself into his work, producing a large number of public building designs in WA State in a very short time. He left Seattle c. 01/1892 while he worked on probably his most notable building, the Spokane County Courthouse, and remained in Spokane for the remainder of his career.

Associated Locations

  • Van Wert, OH (Architect's Birth)
    Van Wert, OH

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  • Spokane, WA (Architect's Death)
    Spokane, WA

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PCAD id: 2732