Preserving a Legacy: The Orlando Ridout V Collection

By Lara Westwood, Librarian, Maryland Historical Trust

Orlando Ridout V grew up surrounded by Maryland history. His family could trace its roots here back to 1753, and he grew up in a home built on the land of his family’s ancestral estate, Whitehall. His father, Orlando Ridout IV, known for his preservation work in Annapolis, was the Maryland Historical Trust’s founding director. After graduating from the University of Virginia, Ridout began his career at MHT and stayed for nearly 30 years until his death in 2013. In 1989, he became the Chief of the Office of Research, Survey, and Registration, where he built a robust program of architectural study and documentation, advancing the scholarship on Maryland’s architectural history.  

Orlando Ridout V at work in Annapolis. (Staff photo)
Orlando Ridout V at work in Annapolis. (Staff photo)

Shortly after joining MHT, Ridout began work on a comprehensive survey of Queen Anne’s County. His enthusiasm for thorough documentation led him to study nearly five hundred historic structures for which he conducted field survey and archival research, created measured drawings, and took countless photographs. The survey shed new light on the county’s architectural trends and historical development, becoming the high-water mark for future county surveys conducted by MHT. He was also passionate about the study of barns and agricultural buildings and worked early on with the Friends of Friendless Farm Buildings, a group founded to document these often forgotten structures, to record farm buildings on the Eastern Shore. His expertise was sought after for many significant preservation and documentation projects, including the Third Haven Meeting House in Easton, Maryland and the Nathaniel Russell House in Charleston, South Carolina. His extensive research resulted in a number of publications, including co-authorship of Architecture in Annapolis: A Field Guide and a chapter in The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg. He also taught “Field Methods for Architectural History” at George Washington University, where he fostered the next generation of preservation professionals. 

Ridout took great pride in his work on the Third Haven Meeting House. (Source: Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties)

After his passing in 2013, the MHT Library received his research collection, a tremendous cache of papers filled with deep insight into the history of the state. Dozens of field and research notebooks, lecture notes and readings, architectural sketches, manuscript drafts of publications and reviews, and about 30 metal storage boxes  containing over 20,000 35mm slides comprise the collection. Ridout’s work on Queen Anne’s County is well represented, and further study of his field notebooks, census and tax record analysis, and other research notes may provide additional context beyond the final architectural survey report. Ridout also extensively researched the 1798 Federal Direct Tax, and scholars may benefit from reviewing his in-depth analysis for his  article “Reediting the Past: A Comparison of Surviving Physical and Documentary Evidence on Maryland’s Eastern Shore” published in the Fall 2014 issue of Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum. The collection includes research notes and correspondence related to his consultation work with George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg as well. Among the thousands of slides compiled for lectures and reference are images of historic buildings from across the United States and England and representational examples of architectural styles, building plans, and interior details.

A few of the many slide boxes in the collection. (Staff photo)
A few of the many slide boxes in the collection. (Staff photo)

MHT staff are currently working to make the collection available to researchers, and the finding aid will be posted online in the coming months. The collection is currently being organized and inventoried according to archival principles, assessed for conservation issues, and rehoused in acid-free boxes and folders. Once the project is complete, the collection will be available for public use.