Notable Modernist Architect
Walter Carstarphen Burgess was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on December 11, 1916 and was raised in Plymouth, North Carolina. He was educated at Plymouth High School, Oak Ridge Military Institute, and Emory & Henry College. Walter served in Germany in WWII as a combat engineer with the 5thDivision which was part of General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army. In 1944, he received a battlefield promotion to 1st Lieutenant. He was also awarded a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during combat. Upon returning home from the war, Walter met his future wife Alta Ruth Cooke (from Wendell, North Carolina) while they were both teaching at Plymouth High School. Walter and Alta were married on March 10, 1947.
Desiring a career in architecture, Walter moved to Henderson, North Carolina where he began an architectural apprenticeship in preparation for sitting for the state architecture licensure exam. He eventually accepted employment in Raleigh, North Carolina where he continued his apprenticeship. His apprenticeship was interrupted in 1950 when, while serving in the United States Army Reserves, he was activated and spent approximately 18 months stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
Once he returned from his military service, he completed his apprenticeship, sat for the state architecture licensure exam, and passed it on the first attempt. Walter eventually opened his own architecture practice in Raleigh, North Carolina and for a time was in partnership with George Smart.
Although Walter designed private residences and commercial buildings, he was best known for his church designs. He employed a modernist style in most of his designs although on occasion he did use more traditional design methods and techniques.
Walter Burgess worked for the North Carolina Methodist Conference for many years. He designed many churches for the conference. His A-frame style is very distinctive. A few examples of his work are Cokesbury UMC in Raleigh, St. James UMC in Raleigh, St. James UMC in Greenville, McMannen UMC in Durham, Church of the Advent in Williamston, First Methodist Church in Mt. Olive, Trinity UMC in New Bern, St. Luke UMC in Laurinburg, and many others.
In Wendell, he designed the beautiful cross interior of the Wendell UMC and drew plans to convert the old Christian Church building to the town library. He also was the architect for 3 properties on Wendell Boulevard—the Bill Sanders house, the Mary Wynne Vaughan house, and Fleet Fuels. Other Wendell homes were the J.W. Dale house and the Mabel Chamblee house. He was the architect for Dr. Brashear’s doctor’s office, Dr. Sedwitz’s office in Zebulon, and the Wendell Town Hall. He was even the designer for the seal for the Town of Wendell. He is also famous for his very modernist home in Wendell.
— by Tim Burgess – 2015