Remembering St. Clair Wright

September 22, 1993

The historic district of Annapolis will be a lasting monument to Anne St. Clair Wright, who died last week. She spearheaded much of the preservation drive of the past four decades that saved the landmark buildings and narrow streets in the state capital from being laid to waste by the wreckers' ball. As Joseph W. Alton Jr., the former Anne Arundel County executive, once observed, "God knows what Annapolis would have been without her -- all chrome and glass?"

St. Clair Wright, as she was known, was not the first preservationist in Annapolis, whose extraordinary number of fine buildings cover three centuries of architectural style. She had been preceded by countless others, many now forgotten, who had done their share of fighting since the 1880s.

In an article she wrote for a 1977 history, St. Clair Wright recalled some of the previous critical junctures in the Annapolis preservation movement, how many of the city's great buildings were once for sale and how Henry Ford had to be dissuaded from moving the Hammond-Harwood House brick by brick to his Greenfield Village Museum in Dearborn, Mich. Priceless collections of Annapolis furniture and memorabilia were, in fact, sold at auction and carried off to faraway cities.

Historic Annapolis Inc., which she helped found in 1952, represents but the fourth major era of preservation in the city's history. Among the earlier efforts was one by John D. Rockefeller to acquire Annapolis for historic restoration. When the Chamber of Commerce, fearing dislocation and strict regulations, threw a fit, the tycoon chose Williamsburg, Va. for his cultural experiment instead. Another plan, hatched up locally around 1925, intended to move historic buildings to sites around the waterfront so that the rest of the city could be redeveloped. Nothing came of it, as World War II intervened.

About the work of re-discovering Annapolis' treasures, Mrs. Wright once said, "The task has been difficult in the extreme as many Marylanders believed their capital was an old, dirty, obsolete city. . . . without particular architectural merit. One candidate for mayor said he felt the city should be entirely demolished and the site given to the Naval Academy!"

Mrs. Wright's vision and determination helped prove that Annapolis is a gem all Marylanders can cherish. The salvaged historic district is a tribute to her devotion to the cause and an inspiration to preservationists everywhere.

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