Although our friends in the Northeast got hit much harder, we woke up this morning in Virginia to a light dusting of snow. Just enough to remind us that it’s still winter.


Architectural Sherlock Holmes

If Dr. Camille Wells, renowned architectural historian, were to wear the cap of Sherlock Holmes, we were certainly the eager sidekicks attached to her side like good Dr. Watson.

Camille Wells investigating rafters in the attic.
Camille Wells investigating rafters in the attic.

Camille joined us at White Plains on November 1st, last year, to support the ongoing investigation into the many outstanding questions about the property’s history. Some of these questions include the current house’s build date, understanding the various layers of renovation/restoration, and determining whether or not the highly regarded architectural historian, Mr. Thomas Tileston Waterman, had any hand in the most recent renovation in 1940.

The day was perfectly filled with many learning moments, some light demolition (Camille carries her own crow-bar and hammer wherever she goes!), and  lunch to keep our spirits up as we moved from floor to floor.

The connection to Mr. Waterman is perhaps one of the most important and most interesting questions. Mr. Waterman (1900-1951) was an architect and architectural historian. He studied and published works on early American buildings, especially in the Tidewater, Virginia area, and between 1928 and 1932, worked on major architectural reconstruction projects at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.

Walker LetterMr. Waterman actually lived in Port Royal, VA, very close to White Plains, during the time that Mr. Alexander Walker purchased the property in 1939 and began to restore it after many years of abandonment. There is a letter from Mr. Walker to the property owners in 1975 that describes the earlier restoration and references to Mr. Waterman’s involvement.

Mr. Waterman was known for making sketches of properties as he travelled from place to place. I am hopeful that a visit to the Waterman Archives at the Library of Congress in the next few weeks will be productive in proving Mr. Waterman’s connection to the house.

As we work toward the possibility of submitting White Plains for approval to State and National historic registers, there will be a great deal more research, learning, and investigation into its history and the cultural landscape of this area at that time. More to come – the journey is well under way!

More about Camille Wells:
Camille Wells is a lecturer in the Department of Architectural History at the University of Virginia and at William & Mary. She worked as an architectural historian for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation and for the state historic preservation offices in Kentucky, Maryland, and North Carolina. She has held faculty positions at the University of Virginia, College of William and Mary, and at Mary Washington College. Her major areas of teaching and research include American architecture and landscapes from the period of early European Settlement to the Civil War, women and architectural issues, the theories and methods of material culture, and the relative contributions of architectural fieldwork, documentary investigation, and archaeological excavation to the making of good architectural history. She also recently won a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund to complete dendrochronological analysis of a set of colonial Virginia houses for which dates of construction have long remained a mystery.