Little is recorded about the black architects and builders that have helped shape our local communities, but their contributions are significant. Click the link below to read about Prince Spears, a local architect in Sanford at the beginning of the 1900’s. I ran across his information while researching our Architectural Guide to Central Florida, published in 2017.
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Prince Spears – Black Architect of Sanford
In the early 20th century, a black man had a successful career in the Florida townships of Georgetown and Goldsboro as an architect, builder and brick mason. Georgetown and Goldsboro were black settlements now incorporated into the city limits of Sanford, FL.
In 1910, shortly after arriving in Sanford, Prince W. Spears was commissioned by Reverend W. H. Brown to design and build the third version of Saint James African Methodist Episcopal Church at the corner of East 9th St. and South Cypress Avenue. Completed in 1913, St. James is an English Gothic Revival style red brick edifice with four matching stain glass windows. The interior is similar to a Roman baptistry with short transept and nave proportions. The congregation was originally organized in 1867, the oldest church in Sanford founded by blacks.
It is important to understand the use of the term 'architect' at this time in Florida. It wasn't until 1914 that the State of Florida gave a charter to the Florida Association of Architects, a group lead by members in Jacksonville. One of their main purposes was to create a distinction between classically trained and degreed architects, and builders calling themselves ‘architects’. In 1915 they succeeded in getting the State of Florida to pass a law to test and issue licenses to architects. At this time more buildings were being erected by builders, than architects. And while Prince Spears had not stayed long enough in Tuskegee Institute to gain even a certification, through his buildings in Seminole County he established his reputation as a church designer and home builder. He had a good eye for proportions and embellished his buildings with beautifully detailed brick ornament.
Before finishing St James, he started designing Saint John Missionary Baptist Church c1910, only a few blocks away. He soon designed the New Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Goldsboro 1918, and Trinity Methodist Baptist Church in Georgetown 1920 now demolished.
In the 1920's he built a string of houses along Sanford Avenue: Dr. Edwin D. Strickland at 511, William O. Green at 611, Dr. George Brewer at 612, Herman L. Refoe at 612, Italy Littles at 614, David C. Brock at 620 Sanford Avenue.
His own house on w. 12th Street, built c1930 has been demolished. He married in 1920 to Theodocia Purcell. His wife moved to Texas in 1940 and since there is no record of additional buildings in Sanford after that time, it is assumed he moved there with her. Born in 1879, the date of his death is not confirmed.