In 1868, when Cass was nine years old the family left Ohio to join his father, who was working as a surveyor in St. Paul, Minnesota. Samuel Gilbert died soon after the family’s arrival in Minnesota.
Elizabeth Gilbert made sure Cass and his two brothers would complete the schooling they had begun in Ohio. In 1876, Cass entered an apprenticeship as draftsman in the office of Abraham Radcliffe, a St. Paul architect. This is where he began his long friendship with fellow architect Clarence Johnston, Sr.
In 1878, Cass entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study architecture under William Robert Ware. He completed one year of the two-year program. In the summer of 1879, he worked as a surveyor to earn money for his “Grand Tour” of Europe.
On January 3, 1880, Cass Gilbert left New York City for Liverpool, England, with $420.00. For almost a year he made his way through the countrysides and cities of picturesque England, France, and Italy. He sketched architectural features that he would later use in many of his designs.
Disappointed that he could not secure employment in London, Cass Gilbert returned to New York in September 1880 and went to work for the prestigious architecture firm of McKim, Mead and White, serving as Stanford White’s assistant.
In 1882, he returned to St. Paul, Minnesota. He represented the interests of McKim, Mead and White in the West and began his Minnesota architecture career. He kept offices in the Gilfillan Block, the same building as his boyhood friends Clarence Johnston and James Knox Taylor who had also returned to St. Paul from New York City.
In 1883, Gilbert completed his first residential work in St. Paul- his mother’s house at 471 Ashland Avenue.
In 1885, he formed a partnership with James Knox Taylor. Together their office would build residences, churches, office buildings, railroad stations and commercial buildings in Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Montana.
In 1891, Gilbert and Knox dissolved their partnership. Gilbert went out on his own and continued his St. Paul work.
In 1895, Cass Gilbert was selected to design the new state capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota. Gilbert knew this would be the job to bring him national attention and would make his architectural career.
In 1899, Gilbert won the commission for the U.S. Custom House in New York. He opened his New York office and moved there the same year. His St. Paul office would remain open until 1910.
Gilbert would go on to build many buildings in New York including the West Street Building, the New York Life Insurance Company Building, the New York County Lawyers Association Building, the Brooklyn Army Terminal, and the U.S. Courthouse.
In 1913, Gilbert completed the Woolworth Building in New York City. It would stand as the world’s tallest building for over a decade. His career continued all over America. He worked on the capitol in Arkansas, and he designed the West Virginia Capitol. His last building was the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington D.C.
--From The Cass Gilbert Society