New England architect called Suffield home
By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
Suffield - posted Wed., May. 1, 2013
Henry Alexander Sykes (Sikes) was born in Suffield in 1810. Orphaned at the tender age of 4, he was raised by his paternal grandfather, Victory Sikes, Jr. By the end of his life in 1860, Henry Sykes had become a moderately well-known architect and designer, even designing Suffield’s Second Baptist Church.
In a presentation given by Rutgers Professor Emeritus David Horsford to the Suffield Historical Society, the life of Sykes was detailed, along with a slide presentation of the buildings he left behind.
Horsford’s interest in Sykes began with research into a building in his own community of New Marlborough, Mass. The Congregational Church (North Parish) was built by Sykes in 1837. Horsford’s research into its creation is what led him to Suffield, Sykes birthplace.
Once he was old enough, Sykes was apprenticed to Springfield, Mass., Architect Chauncey Shepard and later with the more illustrious Ithiel Town out of New Haven, Conn. Town was famous for having been the architect to create a successful truss design, making it possible for bridges to be built over large bodies of water. “He was the guy who taught Sykes how to work on large-scale masonry projects,” said Horsford.
“By 1835, Sykes actually designed the plans for the First Congregational church here in Suffield,” Horsford explained to the group assembled at Kent Memorial Library on April 17. Churches were “the currency of the realm for architects,” said Horsford. “They were the largest buildings in most towns, real status symbols.” Sykes’ Greek Revival church was later removed and replaced with a new design by John C. Mead, also from Suffield.
It was this work which landed him the job to design the Second Baptist Church in Suffield in 1839. Although Horsford was not able to determine whether or not Sykes actually built the church himself, he found proof that the congregation had paid him a total of $25 “for a picture-drawing,” said Horsford. According to the professor, Second Baptist possesses what some consider “one of the best spires in all of New England.”
“He was a unique guy in terms of design,” said Horsford.
By 1846 he had been hired to design the observatory and geology cabinet at Amherst College. Sadly, it is no longer used in its original capacity, but the original Sykes design included an octagonal- shaped building with an attached observatory. The observatory roof moved 360 degrees perched on top of cannonballs. “This was one shrewd guy,” commented Horsford about the design. Sykes also went on to design the zoological cabinet and the original library on the Amherst campus.
In the last decade of his life, Sykes designs shifted to homes, sheds and barns and even the Reverend Benjamin Ruggles’ monument at his grave. Sykes contracted diphtheria from his daughter and died one week after she also expired in 1860. Sykes died a devoted deacon in the First Congregational Church in Suffield.
“He was a small town guy,” said Horsford.
At the time of his death, it is thought that he was living with his wife at a home he built on Main Street.