Preservation Virginia Blog

Jun
21

Great Scott! A Brief History of Preservationist Mary Wingfield Scott

Mary Wingfield Scott with ‘Titania’ the Cat – Harold Lafferty Richmond Times-Dispatch April 21, 1957

Written by Jason Kramer, Administrative Assistant

While exploring Richmond it is not hard to feel the history of the River City around you. Both historic architecture and landscape work to tell the story of historic Richmond. In the past, and similarly today, historic sites across Virginia are threatened by modern development. Throughout the 1930s-50s pieces of Richmond’s complex history were spared thanks to the efforts of many preservationists, and at the helm of a new form of preservation was Mary Wingfield Scott.

Scott is remembered not only for her efforts towards preserving Richmond’s history, but also because she shattered social expectations for the time and walked her own path through her work and her personal life. Scott met her life partner Virginia Reese Withers in 1923. With Withers, Scott would end up adopting two boys which was a difficult task as an unmarried woman in 1927. Withers would encourage Scott into the historic preservation scene and Scott went on to obtain her undergraduate degree from Bryn Mawr and her doctorates in Art History from the University of Chicago (Winkie Pg 98-102, pg.93). 

By the early 1900s, much of historic preservation focused on Colonial based architecture and cemeteries. Scott had the pleasure of visiting other historically enriched cities in the South, such as New Orleans, and recognized that the historic buildings throughout the city, although not as old as Colonial house, were of cultural significance and defined the city (Peninger Pg 17-18). At the time Richmond was often passed by historic tourists on their way to Williamsburg, as Scott saw it. With industrialization on the rise and an increased use of automobiles, Richmond’s historic layout was up for reformation. This posed a threat to aging houses as the city sought to replace Richmond’s historic homes with modern storefronts, gas-stations, housing and parking lots. It was these urban changes to the city that threatened the historic homes that made Richmond unique. Scott suggested and practiced what is now called “adaptive use”, the idea that older historic buildings could be repurposed to both benefit the local community and to preserve history (Couture, pg. 98). Her first implication of this technique was with the Adam Craig House located in Richmond.


The Adam Craig House – unknown ca. 1938

In 1935, the Adam Craig House was falling into disrepair. The home is known as the birthplace of Jane Stith Craig Stanard, the inspiration for Edgar Allen Poe’s “To Helen” poem. Repairing the property was a monumental task for the one committee alone, which prompted Scott to work with the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) in order to develop the William Byrd Branch in 1935. Through APVA member funding and Scott’s guidance as the newly appointed director, the new branch was successful in saving the property. The Craig House would become what was known as the Negro Art Center that emphasized Black art and artists within Richmond, showing the effectiveness of adaptive use. (Couture Pg.98). The William Byrd Branch then shifted its focus to the many other properties that were able to be saved. Some of the other properties included the Ann Carrington House (it was remodeled to hold three apartments), the Ellen Glasgow House (which would be rented to the University Center that leased the house as office space for the Junior League), and the strip of Greek Revival houses known as Linden Row that is used today as an inn (it was purchased partially with Scott’s personal funds). The successful saving and reuse of these four properties show the effectiveness of Scott’s strategy. She also helped form Historic Richmond Foundation, which merged with the William Byrd Branch of the APVA to form a unified voice for historic preservation in Virginia’s capital city.


Linden Row Inn – Jason Kramer June 18, 2024

Throughout Scott’s career she also produced two vital books: Houses of Old Richmond and Old Richmond Neighborhoods that are frequently used by Richmond historians today. Scott was successful in her endeavors not only due to her own tenacity and willingness to invest herself into her work but because of her ability to unify those within and outside of historic preservation. By working closely with the museums, shrines and the public through the “Old Richmond News” articles she edited, Scott showed that it takes all of us to save and protect what makes Richmond unique. In remembrance of Scott’s contributions to Richmond’s history the Department of Historic resources created a highway marker to celebrate her achievements that stands proudly in front of Linden Row.

DHR Highway Marker Dedicated to Mary Wingfield Scott- Jason Kramer June 18, 2024

 

Bibliography

Couture, Richard T. “A History of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities” The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Taylor Publishing Company. 1984.

Frances S. Pollard, “Mary Wingfield Scott (1895–1983)”. Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia. 2021. https://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Scott_Mary_Wingfield

Peninger, Kay. “Mary Wingfield Scott: A Rebel with a Rubble Cause”. VCU Thesis and Dissertations, VCU. 2011. https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/etd/2612/.

Scott, Mary Wingfield. “A. P. V. A. Tries to Save Old Richmond.” Journal of the American Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 3, no. 4, 1943, pp. 26–31.

Scott, Mary Wingfield. “Old Richmond News”. Old Richmond News, vol 1.1- vol 6.2, The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. 1944-1962.

Scott, Mary Wingfield. “Winkie”. n.p, ca.2010, http://www.rosegill.com/MaryWingfieldScott/Winkie.pdf




category: virginia-preservation-conference