I had a feeling of keen disappointment. I wanted to be an artist.
Charles Sumner Greene,
recalling his father’s plan in 1887 to apprentice him to
a St. Louis architect, from his personal papers, ca. 1943
Charles and Henry Greene were born in Cincinnati in 1868 and 1870, respectively. The boys attended grammar school in St. Louis, where the family had moved in 1874. While their father, Thomas Sumner Greene, later studied medicine in Cincinnati, the boys and their mother, Lelia Ariana Mather Greene, lived on her family’s farm near Barboursville, W.Va. Here, “Charlie” and “Hallie,” as the boys were known, learned about the self-sufficiency of rural life. They rode horses, watched farmers turn wool into thread and cloth, and observed basic carpentry and blacksmithing.
In 1876 Dr. Greene presented Charles, then eight years old, with a copy of The Boy’s Book of Trades and the Tools Used in Them (n.d., ca. 1870). As teenagers the boys attended the Manual Training School (MTS) of Washington University, whose founder, Calvin Milton Woodward, had pioneered the blending of polytechnic courses — such as machine-tool making and technical drawing — with traditional academics. Charles, fifteen months older than Henry, apprenticed to a St. Louis architect while his brother finished his secondary education at MTS.
Beginning in the fall of 1888 the brothers began formal training in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Henry Greene excelled scholastically and professionally, but Charles continued to resist architectural training. Happy reminiscences of his Boston days were reserved almost exclusively for his watercolor painting instructor: “I smile yet when I think of Ross Turner… dipping his ebony brush in his big white bowl of water… to whisk a circle of divine colors.” Turner’s manual, On the Use of Water Colors for Beginners (1886) was probably a book that Charles consulted. Receiving their MIT certificates in 1891, the Greenes apprenticed until 1893 in various Boston firms that were influenced by the late Henry Hobson Richardson (1838–1886), whose inventive use of shingles and other natural materials fueled early interest in Arts and Crafts ideals.
Next: The Boston Years