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Remembering Mary Wingfield Scott, the woman who saved Richmond one brick at a time

Posted at 3:15 PM, Jun 30, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Linden Row is a stately stretch of 19th-century buildings in downtown Richmond.

Now considered an architectural landmark, at one time this row of brick buildings was slated for demolition.

"I think people from far and wide have come to recognize and acknowledge Linden Row as this special place on Franklin Street,” Will Glasco, with Preservation Virginia, said.

Thanks to one trailblazing woman named Mary Wingfield Scott, Linden Row was saved from the wrecking ball when Scott sounded the alarm in the early 20th century.

“[She] quickly recognized that we were losing places that made Richmond unique,” Glasco said.

Trailblazing Preservationist Mary Wingfield Scott Remembered

Julie Langan, the Director of Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources, said it wasn’t just bricks and mortar that were disappearing.

Scott warned what was being erased was the soul of the city.

"This is a quintessential Richmond property,” Langan said. “It would have been heartbreaking. I can imagine it because I saw similar buildings lost. She was a champion for them when nobody really else was."

Scott singlehandedly launched the preservation movement in Richmond.

"Mary Wingfield Scott was doing historic preservation before it was cool,” Glasco said.

The visionary’s first success was saving the 18th-century Craig House in Shockoe Bottom in 1935.

"It is one of the only 18th-century or 1700s buildings still standing in that part of the city,” Glasco said.

Trailblazing Preservationist Mary Wingfield Scott Remembered

Scott’s efforts led to the founding of a group that later became known as Preservation Virginia.

"You know it is really part of our identity here and culture. And if we lose these historic sites we are just like anywhere else,” Glasco said.

Scott’s independent spirit fueled her mission.

“My guess is that they thought she was eccentric,” Langan said. “She was a person I wish I had met. She sounds as though she was quite the character.”

The Richmond native documented blocks of buildings and led city tours. Scott even authored two books in the 1940s and 1950s.

The pages of Houses of Old Richmond and Old Richmond Neighborhoods document what survived and what was lost.

Scott put her money where her mouth was. During urban renewal when cities across America were gutted, the historian bought houses destined for demolition in Oregon Hill and across the city.

"I think in so many ways we need to be grateful to her. It is our character. It is why people come to visit us. I think we all know cities that had some character but are now very generic,” Langan said.

Trailblazing Preservationist Mary Wingfield Scott Remembered

Her actions stopped wholesale destruction.

“You kind of wonder what it would have looked like if she wasn’t here to do that work,” Glasco said.

She also purchased seven buildings along Linden Row.

Scott preferred her repairs to be DIY.

Trailblazing Preservationist Mary Wingfield Scott Remembered

“She rolled up her sleeves and she used a trowel and brick mortar and started to repair the brick. She was literally a hands-on preservationist,” Glasco said.

Mary Wingfield Scott died in 1983 at the age of 88 and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery. Forty years after her death the historian still inspires.

“I think there is an enduring legacy that is attributable to her,” Langan said.

Fittingly a highway marker was dedicated recently in her honor right outside of her beloved Linden Row on Franklin Street.

Trailblazing Preservationist Mary Wingfield Scott Remembered

“We did that because we thought she was deserving of the recognition,” Langan said. “She was a visionary.”

Mary Wingfield Scott was a pioneering preservationist who saved city gems one brick at a time.

“I certainly admire Mary Wingfield Scott. She set the bar high and lived and breathed preservation 24 hours a day and we are working hard to live up to that expectation,” Glasco said. “She certainly had an eye for saving buildings that made Richmond unique.”

Watch for Wayne Covil's stories on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com. If you know someone Wayne should profile, email him wayne.covil@wtvr.com.

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