He was born in Ballston Spa, New York State. After being educated at Union College, he served as an apprentice of Richard Upjohn while he designed Trinity Church in Manhattan. Remaining with the firm for five years, he became a partner and later married Upjohn's daughter. His interest in gothic revival architecture lead him to study for the ministry and after his training he became the priest and rector of an Episcopal church Arden, New York.
He was elected the first Professor of Architecture at Cornell University on September 18, 1871, essentially founding the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. While at Cornell, he continued to serve as a minister, and authored two textbooks, Elementary Architecture (1876) and Vaults (1884), and designed several important campus buildings, including Sage Hall, Olive Tjaden Hall, and Sage Chapel. He was a professor until 1897, when he became Professor Emeritus, and served in that position until his death.