Skip to main content

The Morley Jeffers Williams Collection

 Collection
Identifier: A-MJW

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of correspondence, reports, surveys, newspaper clippings, biographies and other written works, bibliographies, excerpts from diaries, letters, inventories and ledgers, various types of architectural and archaeological drawings, maps, and images documenting the work and research conducted during Morley Jeffers Williams’s tenure at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Williams compiled the majority of the documents and images found in this collection between 1931 and 1939; however, the information contained within these records dates from 1602 to 1967. The bulk of the collection consists of numerous architectural and archaeological drawings detailing past and contemporary views of George Washington’s estate; furthermore, there are several drawings depicting possible future renovations to Mount Vernon. This collection also contains a large amount of scholarly research pertaining to George Washington, Mount Vernon, and 18th-century life and culture. This information provides an in-depth understanding of George Washington’s life, particularly concerning his interactions with his estate. Other documentation charts the efforts of Morley Jeffers Williams as he worked to restore the structures and landscape at Mount Vernon.

Dates

  • Other: 1602-1967

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to research during scheduled appointments. Researchers must complete the Washington Library’s Special Collections and Archives Registration Form before access is provided. The library reserves the right to restrict access to items for preservation purposes.

Biographical / Historical

Morley Jeffers Williams was born in Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada on August 1, 1886. In 1910, twenty-four-year-old Williams attended the engineering school at the University of Toronto for training as a civil engineer. Over the next eleven years, Williams used his engineering degree to work in various construction and agricultural positions such as bridge construction inspector for the Canadian Pacific Railroad and farm overseer. After earning a second degree in horticulture from the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, Ontario, Williams became an instructor and student at the Harvard University School of Design.

During a successful academic career in which he was awarded several grants and appointed an assistant professor at Harvard School of Design, Williams began to visit historic sites and make topographic surveys for his own research. He became involved with restoration projects at various sites, and in 1931 the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA) contracted Williams to prepare topographic drawings of Mount Vernon for the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth. After Williams completed his work at Mount Vernon, he continued to study the architectural and archaeological elements of George Washington’s estate, in addition to his other projects and responsibilities. In spring 1935, the MVLA again contracted Williams; his task was to restore the Kitchen Garden. By the following winter, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association hired Williams to be the Director of the new Research and Restoration Department.

During his time as Director of Research and Restoration, Williams uncovered and assisted in the reconstruction and/or restoration of several original structures on-site including the Kitchen Garden, Deer Park Wall, and two Ha-Ha Walls. Williams also helped improve the historic integrity within the Mansion, as he both researched 18th-century material culture and used artifacts found during excavations to ensure the objects placed in the mansion and other site buildings were historically accurate for Mount Vernon. Under Williams’s supervision, the Department of Research and Restoration eventually expanded to oversee the restoration of the Mansion, Tomb, and Gardens, and the development of the Library. In May 1939, the board of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association decided to discontinue both the Department of Research and Restoration and Williams’s position as department head. Soon thereafter, Williams left Mount Vernon and began his own business conducting architectural and archaeological research.

Throughout the duration of his life, Morley Williams worked at various other historic sites including Tryon Palace in North Carolina. He became a professor of landscape architecture at the North Carolina State College (now University) School of Design, and was later appointed chair of the Landscape Architecture Department. In early 1977, Williams returned to Mount Vernon with his family for a visit and was well received. Approximately 10 months later, Morley Williams died of congestive heart failure.

Morley Williams was a pioneer of rigorous and scholarly study of Mount Vernon, especially on the evolution of the estate landscape. As Director of the Research and Restoration Department, Williams used an interdisciplinary approach to research and restoration, by combining landscape architecture, history, historic preservation, and archaeology. Much of the current understanding of Mount Vernon’s history is based upon the findings of Morley Williams. To this day, Morley Jeffers Williams’s work continues to be an immeasurable asset to the restoration efforts at Mount Vernon.

Chronology:

The following is a more in-depth timeline charting the life and accomplishments of Morley Jeffers Williams.

August 1, 1886 – Born in Tillsenburg, Ontario, Canada.

1910-1911 – Attended the engineering school at the University of Toronto for training as a civil engineer.

1911 – Hired as a bridge construction inspector by the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

1912 – Hired as bridge construction inspector and the acting engineer of bridge site surveys by the Montreal-Port Arthur District of the Canadian Northern Railway. Eventually promoted to resident engineer in charge of roadbed grading and track-laying.

1914 – Resigned from his job and relocated to Kingsville, Ontario. Became the co-owner of a grain elevator and cultivated three hundred acres of land with seed grades of corn, small grains, and grasses.

1922 – Began managing Vincent Massey’s farm; some responsibilities included consulting about the buildings and presentations of other private farms.

1925: Earned a horticulture degree from the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, Ontario.

1927 – Became a student and instructor at Harvard School of Design.

1928 – Earned an MLA (landscape architecture) in city planning at Harvard University’s School of Design.

1929 – Received the Sheldon Traveling Fellowship and studied landscape design in Europe and North Africa.

1930 – Became an assistant professor at Harvard School of Design.

March 1931 – Awarded a grant from the Clark Fund for Research in Landscape Design at Harvard to study “American Landscape Design as Exemplified by the Plantation Estates of Maryland and Virginia, 1750 to 1860.”

May 1931 – Visited various historic plantations, including Gunston Hall and Woodlawn, creating topographic surveys.

July 1931 – Contracted to prepare topographic drawings of Mount Vernon for the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth.

Summer 1932 – Hired to complete Arthur Shurcliff’s research and excavations at Stratford Hall. Identified many original structures and sketched architectural restoration plans for the east garden at Stratford Hall. Received a second grant from the Clark Fund, which allowed him to further his research on Virginia and Maryland plantations, including Monticello.

Summer 1933 – Supervised the restoration of the east garden at Stratford Hall.

Summer 1934 – Received funding from the Emergency Relief Administration of Massachusetts to restore God’s Acre in Harvard Square, an old burial ground. Upon finishing this restoration project, Williams continued his architectural and archaeological assessment of the grounds at Mount Vernon.

May 1935 – Contracted to restore the Kitchen Garden at Mount Vernon under the supervision of Mrs. Horace Brown, the Vice-Regent for Vermont.

Summer 1935 – Continued to oversee the restoration of the Kitchen Garden at Mount Vernon. He was also contracted to assess the history of White House landscaping in light of possible changes to design.

Winter 1935 – Hired by Mount Vernon as the Director of Research and Restoration.

Spring 1936 – Taught during spring semester at Harvard, then resigned his professorship in order to focus his efforts at Mount Vernon. Williams helped to rebuild and/or restore several original structures on-site including the Kitchen Garden and Deer Park Wall. He used artifacts found during excavations such as door hinges and other hardware to model replicas for the newly restored buildings. Williams also uncovered various original structures including two Ha-Ha walls and a cross-wall underlying the Bowling Green, which were previously unknown to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

1937 – Concerned with preserving the historic integrity of the site, Williams pointed out items and structures he deemed inaccurate such as various walkways and coaches. As Director of the Department of Research and Restoration, Williams also focused on accessing primary documentation for research, as well as acquiring objects for Mount Vernon’s collections.

1938 - Contracted Frances Benjamin Johnston to make photographic studies as a supplement to his measured drawings. Her photographs were combined with an article written by Williams in the January 1938 edition of Landscape Architecture and the February issue of American Architect and Architecture. Williams also assigned employees within the Department of Research and Restoration to research various collections located at the Library of Congress that he believed would help to maintain the historic integrity at Mount Vernon as restoration efforts continued.

1939 – Under Williams’s supervision, the Department of Research and Restoration grew to oversee the research and restoration of the Mansion, Tomb, Gardens, Grounds, and Outbuildings, as well as the development of the Library.

May 16, 1939 – Board of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association voted to dismantle the Department of Research and Restoration as of June 1, 1939.

Summer 1939 – Williams ended his association with Mount Vernon after the dissolution of the Department of Research and Restoration and began his own business conducting architectural and archaeological research.

1940 – 1941 – Researched 18th-century manuscripts and newspapers in several prominent repositories, including the Library of Congress.

1941-1947 – Morley Williams and his wife, Nathalia Williams, managed their own business for architectural and archaeological research.

1947 – Hired as a professor of landscape architecture by the North Carolina State College (now University) School of Design.

1948 – Appointed chair of the landscape architecture department at the North Carolina State College (now University) School of Design.

1952 –1960 (ca.) - Contracted to restore Tryon Palace, a pre-Revolutionary governor’s mansion in North Carolina. Oversaw archaeological excavations that exposed the original foundation of the governor’s mansion, as well as uncovered other structural aspects of the site such as water sources and outbuildings. Since no garden plots were discovered, Williams drew plans for formal gardens authentic to the time period Tryon Palace was first constructed. During the excavations and restoration, Williams salvaged many artifacts, which he never fully identified and/or processed. This later became a point of contention between Williams and the benefactors of Tryon Palace.

1961 – Returned to Harvard as a lecturer for landscape architecture.

December 1961 – Settled accounts with Tryon Palace by returning all artifacts to the Tryon Palace Commission.

1962-1977 – Williams and his wife continued to restore historic sites and landscapes for the remainder of his life.

February 1977 – At ninety-one, Williams returned with his family to Mount Vernon for a visit, and was well received by Regent Mrs. John H. Guy, Jr., Director Charles Cecil Wall, and others.

December 1, 1977 – Morley Jeffers Williams died of congestive heart failure.

Extent

4.62 Linear Feet (11 Hollinger boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Arrangement

Materials in each series have been arranged alphabetically and according to subject matter.

List of Series: Series 1: Structures, 1676 – 1938 Sub-Series 1.1: Buildings and Structures Sub-Series 1.2: Mansion I. General II. Exterior III. Interior Series 2: Landscape, 1737 – 1939 Sub-Series 2.1: Gardens Sub-Series 2.2: Grounds Sub-Series 2.3: Walls & Gates Series 3: Farming & Life at Mount Vernon, 1713 – 1925 Series 4: Other Historic Sites, 1730 – 1937 Series 5: Biographical Information, 1602 – 1962 Sub-Series 5.1: Biographies Sub-Series 5.2: Bibliographies & Written Works Sub-Series 5.3: Chronologies Sub-Series 5.4: Writings to/from George Washington Series 6: Architecture and Archaeology Sub-Series 6.1: Maps & Drawings Sub-Series 6.2: Surveys Series 7: Ephemera, 1758 - 1938 Sub-Series 7.1: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association Sub-Series 7.2: Reports Sub-Series 7.3: Images

Related Materials

Papers of the MVLA Papers of the Superintendent and Resident Director Measured drawings (architectural drawings) Restoration Files of the Historic Structures Report

Title
The Worley Jeffers Williams Collection
Status
Completed
Author
Danielle Snyder, Library Assistant
Date
2003
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3600
Mount Vernon VA 22121 USA
703-799-3600