Joseph Schwarz

Joseph Schwarz (1858-1927)


Born in New York City on February 22, 1858, Joseph Schwarz moved with his family to La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1861. He trained in the family firm as a cabinetmaker and later worked for a contracting company. Schwarz moved to Dakota Territory in the early 1880s. Sioux Falls population was growing (from 2,164 in 1880 to 10167 in 1890) presenting many opportunties for an aspiring architect. By 1887 he was a practicing architect in Sioux Falls, one of the first-generation architects who had learned the trade through apprenticeship rather than higher education.


A devout Catholic, Schwarz was long associated with the Diocese of Sioux Falls. Between 1895 and 1924 he designed at least twenty-two Catholic churches in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa as well as twenty schools and parish houses, sixteen commercial or warehouse buildings, six Carnegie libraries, six other public buildings, five residential properties, four county courthouses, and four churches of other denomonations. Schwarz preferred the Gothic style for his churches, a design aesthetic that met with approval from the mostly German and Czech parishioners.


His most notable church buildings include St. Mary's in Salem, South Dakota (1896); St. Wenceslaus' in Tabor, South Dakota (1898– 99); Saints Peter and Paul in Bow Valley, Nebraska (1903); and Holy Family in Mitchell, South Dakota (1903–6).


Two of Schwarz's sons, both trained architects, joined the firm after 1900, and their designs began to shift toward classical motifs. Also at this time the firm began to receive significant public commissions.


Several of the most noteworthy are the Carnegie Library in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (1903); Sioux Falls High School (1906) later known as Washington High School; the Lyon County Courthouse in Rock Rapids, Iowa (1915); and the administration building at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota (1912– 18).


Joseph Schwarz died in Sioux Falls on December 26, 1927. His obituary stated that "his reputation ... extended all over this section of the northwest and he was one of the best known and respected citizens of Sioux Falls for a long period of years. He is buried in the Catholic Cemetery.



He worked at 112  N. Phillips Avenue in downtown Sioux Falls and lived at

212 S. Prairie Avenue, Sioux Falls, in a neighborhood of predominately Anglo-American professionals and


Through much of his career, Schwarz's main professional competition was Wallace Dow; both became experts in masonry construction using the locally available Sioux quartzite for Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. Dow had arrived in town first and also had the additional advantage of being

Ang~o-American, Protestant, and connected with many of the prominent politicians and businessmen in the territory.


Schwarz's firm obtained an increased number of public commissions for university and civic buildings in the twentieth century, as Sioux Falls and the region continued to grow, and aftet Dow retired in 1905.


By then Schwarz had a more established reputation-particularly after the 1899 four-story Richardsonian Romanesque Jewett Brothers warehouse in Sioux Falls. In 1907, the local paper credited him with being the oldest practicing architect in Sioux Falls.


Using stone, and to a lesser degree brick, masonry, his early work was predominately Romanesque with some use of the Gothic style-the latter for churches in particular. He continued to build in Romanesque style with Sioux quartzite, but also transitioned into using Indiana limestone both on Italian Renaissance hotels and public buildings, as well as on Neoclassical Carnegie libraries, courthouses, churches, and school buildings. Two of the courthouses, in Moody County, South Dakota, and Lyon County, Iowa, used the exact same plans.


He also designed a few residential homes including his own in 1888 and a $2,500 six-room "prize home" for the local paper in 1908. 


His sons, Henry J., Edmund A., and Joseph Jr. worked as draftsmen and then as architects in their father's fir{n, and Henry, at least, went to the University of Pennsylvania for architecture around 1900 and returned to work for his father.

They represented the 'second-generation' of Dakota architects who had university- training and often came in with professional firms instead of as individuals. His sons' university training influenced some of the Schwarz firm's later buildings; his son Henry is said to have chosen the Italianate style for the 1912 Central Fire Station in Sioux Falls. His son Joseph Jr. carried on the firm at least through the mid-1930s. 

200 West Sith Street  Sioux Falls SD 57104             (605) 951-9200   

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© 2016  by Minnehaha County Historical Society