Biography of James C. Holland

James C. Holland. The public architecture of Kansas, especially in the capital city, is largely a record of the skill and experience of one man, James C. Holland. Mr. Holland by all the standards that can be applied is a great architect. He has gained a well deserved prominence in this profession. His experience in Kansas covers more than thirty years. At one time he held the office of state architect, but throughout his business has largely been in connection with the designing and the superintending of construction of buildings which serve a public or quasi-public purpose.

A few years ago a signal recognition of his standing as an architect was given when he was one of the eight architects outside the city invited by the New York Society of Architects to membership in that body. When it is considered that this is the greatest organization of its kind in America, and when only men of recognized standing and ability are admitted to its membership, the invitation can be appraised at its real worth, and even Mr. Holland, who has never looked for praise or honors beyond a conscientious performance that would satisfy himself, had reason to be pleased with this invitation.

Both as to his family and himself a great deal might be said and the following sketch has a most appropriate place in any history of Kansas.

James C. Holland was born at Lima, Ohio, in a log cabin April 2, 1853. The original spelling of the name was Howland. John Howland was the progenitor of the American family and came as a follower of Lord Baltimore during the early colonization of the present State of Maryland. What branch of the family adopted the spelling Holland is not now ascertainable. Mr. Holland’s family, however, has spelled the name in that form for many generations. For many years the home of Mr. Holland’s ancestors was around Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. His father’s cousin was the noted American author, whose writings were so widely read a generation ago and are still highly prized, John G. Holland.

Thomas Holland, grandfather of James C., was a pioneer in the State of Ohio, locating near Washington Court House in Fayette County, about 1803. There he endured all the hardships of pioneering, developed a good homestead, and by his marriage to Lorena Cahill reared a large family of children.

Barton Andrew Holland, the youngest child of Thomas and Lorena, and the father of James C. Holland, was a prominent man in Northwestern Ohio. All of the name in Ohio were substantial men, ranked above the average in point of citizenship, and fearlessly did their duty in whatever circumstance of life they were placed. Barton A. Holland in early life was a builder, and was quite widely known in that line. Early in the Civil war he was made a recruiting officer at Lima. He recruited the Ninety-ninth, One Hundred and Eighteenth and One Hundred and Eightieth Ohio Volunteer Regiments of Infantry. He himself went to the front as first lieutenant and later captain of a company in the One Hundred and Eighteenth, afterwards was made ranking captain in the One Hundred and Eightieth regiment, and still later became major of that regiment. With that rank he served until the close of the war. One of his sons, Thomas B., now one of Ohio’s successful criminal lawyers, living at Paulding, was first lieutenant in the One Hundred and Eighteenth Regiment. For many years the Holland family lived in the vicinity of Lima, and another family in the same locality was the Osmons. Barton A. Holland married Lydia Osmon, a daughter of Thomas and Rachel (Osborn) Osmon.

When Major Holland returned from the war his health was shattered, and he was unable to continue actively his building business. He served as sheriff and deputy sheriff of Allen County, Ohio, and subsequently practiced law at Lima. While he was never a student in a law college he had the basic qualifications of the real lawyer. He possessed an analytical mind, was almost infallible in the matter of figures and measurements, and his reasoning powers and sound logic gave him high rank as a lawyer. He was also a power in Ohio politics, and was campaign manager of Calvin S. Brice when that Ohio statesman was elected United States senator by one vote. Barton A. Holland died in 1907. Much of the attribute which James C. Holland has shown for the profession of architecture he credits to inheritance from his father. He was especially influenced to take up the building business by a brother-in-law, James M. McKinney, then a prominent builder at Lima. Mr. Holland had a sound educational training, though perhaps measured by modern standards it did not include as wide a range of subjects as are found in a university curriculum. He attended the public schools of Lima, and afterwards removed with his parents to Ada, Ohio, and there helped to build and afterwards attended from the age of eleven years the noted normal school founded by Prof. H. S. Lehr, which afterwards was known as the Ohio Normal University and now the Ohio Northern University.

Mr. Holland spent about a year in the office of Rumbaugh & Bacon, architects, at Toledo. In 1879 he returned to Ada and resumed his business as a builder and designer. In 1880 he took a special course at Cornell University. On his return he was given the chair of architecture in his alma mater at Ada.

James C. Holland arrived at Topeka in 1885 with $110 of borrowed money. While at Ada he had met with a severe accident that not only kept him under a doctor’s care for many months but left him penniless. Thus when he began his practice as an architect in Kansas he was practically insolvent. Because of his previous experience, his thorough technical qualifications, business gradually came to him at Topeka, and many years ago he took his place at the head of the profession.

In 1895 Mr. Holland was elected state architect. He filled that office three years, resigning to accept the position of special architect for the Santa Fe Railway Company. As state architect he really discharged three functions, as state house architect for finishing up the capitol building, as state architect, an office created by the board of public works, and as architect for the State Board of Charities. During the three years he spent in office he supervised the expenditure of nearly $750,000 in public buildings in Kansas. It is noteworthy that he completed all the central wing of the capitol building except the central dome, and even for that he had all the plans and specifications drawn, still the actual work of construction was finished by his successor.

On leaving the office of state architect he continued with the Santa Fe Railway until 1899, and since then has been in individual practice, and is now head of the firm of J. C. Holland & Son, with offices at 734 Kansas Avenue. For about twelve years Mr. Holland’s services were largely employed by the Wells Fargo Express Company in designing their buildings over a widely extended territory.

As stated previously, Mr. Holland’s work has been largely confined to the designing and superintendence of the construction of public buildings. There have been no local limitations to his practice. A few years ago the municipal government of Cohoes, New York, awarded him the contract for the city hall over twenty-eight competitors. That is only one of a long list of public buildings erected or supervised by Mr. Holland. He has designed nearly all the prominent public buildings of the City of Topeka, including the Shawnee County Courthouse, the high school and manual training school, the Journal Building, the Capper Building, the Mills Building, the Topeka Auditorium, the Topeka Young Men’s Christian Association, the Presbyterian and Central Congregational churches, the Daily Capital Building and numerous others. He has constructed sixteen court-houses in different counties of Kansas, and a large number of schools, Young Men’s Christian Association buildings, churches, jails and business buildings in this and other states.

Mr. Holland is a prominent Mason, a Knight Templar, a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite and a Shriner. He is also an Elk, a member of the Toltecs, belongs to the Topeka Commercial and Rotary clubs, and in politics is a republican.

September 14, 1882, at Ada, Ohio, he married Miss Lizzie Braker. Mrs. Holland came with him to Kansas, and has loyally aided him in his business success and at the same time has devoted herself most unselfishly to her home and children. There are three children: Barton Andrew, Franklin Osmon and Lydia Lucile. The two sons are now associated with their father in business, while Lucile is the wife of R. H. Sowers of Topeka.


Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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