Carl Lounsbury

Adjunct Associate Professor of History, College of William and Mary

Thursday, May 24thfrom 1:00 – 2:00 pm / ARC 204

Innovation and Tradition:  The Transformation of the Building Process in the Early Chesapeake

Traditional English construction technology changed dramatically in the early Chesapeake due to the confluence of social, economic, environmental, and logistical circumstances that forced settlers to modify familiar building practices. By the 1640s English- born and trained craftsmen in the new world had adapted construction methods and plan types that best suited the needs of an emerging plantation culture that was spread thinly along the banks of the James River.  Colonists were acutely aware that these new forms had diverged so far from common English practices that they referred to these buildings as “Virginia houses.” This short-hand reference described clapboarded buildings fabricated with a simplified structural system that reduced much of the labor-intensive and complicated joinery associated with well-framed “English houses” with their stout posts, beams, and braces fastened with mortise and tenon joints.

The story of colonial building exemplifies the broader theme of early European settlement of America, which traces the adaptation of inherited forms to a new world society. This paper focuses on how building practices responded to the emergence of a tobacco-growing, slave-labor society in the Chesapeake in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although native born craftsmen used English tools to shape their buildings and imported hardware, glass, stone, and other items from England, their buildings reflected the needs of a plantation culture that encouraged rudimentary building practices for many decades before the social, economic, and cultural maturation of the colonies of Virginia and Maryland in the early eighteenth century called for more permanent building. 

Even then, new English ideas about design and style were shaped by that earlier legacy. The authority of metropolitan ideas devised from architectural books and the drawing board, did not overwhelm nor trump practical experience garnered over many decades from the building site. Craftsmen and their clients controlled that reception to create an architecture that reflected the aspirations of this provincial society. From the development of a local standards for brick production and ornamentation to the refinement of framing methods, Chesapeake builders developed a distinctive building technology that flourished through the middle of the nineteenth century.

Carl Lounsburyretired as the Senior Architectural Historian in the Architectural and Archaeological Research Department at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in December 2016. Over a 35-year career at Colonial Williamsburg, he researched English and colonial American public buildings, churches, meetinghouses, and theatres; and the terminology, practice, and technology of preindustrial building. He was involved in the restoration of many buildings in Williamsburg’s Historic Area. 

Lounsbury is an Adjunct Associate Professor of History at the College of William and Mary, where he teaches courses in architectural history and a summer field school. He is also engaged in a three-year study of the architecture, objects, and garden at Eyre Hall, an eighteenth-century plantation on the Eastern Shore of Virginia that has remained in the same family for ten generations. In addition, Lounsbury remains an active consultant in architectural research and preservation. He has been involved in the study of slavery at the University of Mississippi and is investigating slave quarters in north Mississippi including William Faulkner’s house Rowan Oak in Oxford. He is the co-editor of Buildings and Landscapes, the journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum.

Lounsbury earned his undergraduate degree in history and English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received his MA and PhD from George Washington University. In addition to William and Mary, he has taught at the University of Mary Washington, VCU, and the University of Virginia. 

His extensive publications include Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Buildings (1990); An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape (1994);and The Courthouses of Early Virginia(2005)all three of which won the Abbott Lowell Cummings Award from the Vernacular Architecture Forum. Other books include From Statehouse to Courthouse: An Architectural History of South Carolina’s Colonial Capitol and the Charleston County Courthouse(2001); An Architectural History of Bruton Parish Church (2011), and Essays in Early American Architectural History: A View from the Chesapeake(2011). Most recently, he is the co-author and a contributor to The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg, (2013). His revision of Before and After, the popular history of the restoration of Williamsburg will be published in 2018. He is at work on a history of early American ecclesiastical architecture.



Dr. Thomas E. Boothby

Professor of Architectural Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University 


Saturday, May 26thfrom 9:00 – 10:00 am ARC204:

‘Ars sine scientia nihil est’ and other Delusions of the Second Millennium

The contemporary understanding of engineering in general, and structural engineering in particular, embraces the application of a rational, scientific world-view and scientific reasoning to the determination of appropriate sizes, materials, and configurations for structures. This outlook is a relatively recent development.  The architects and engineers who worked through the nineteenth century primarily applied the rules from their craft tradition to the construction of buildings.  The success of these methods is apparent in examining any building or built work from this time period.  The understanding applied through their craft tradition to these built works will be called empirical design.  We will be an investigate the specific methods used by empirical designers  in specific time periods including ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, the nineteenth century, and the present day. We will further recognize a very gradual shift from empirical design to scientific design from the middle ages through the present day.  

Following this discussion, we will also investigate the epistemological basis of empirical design, which has its roots in empiricism, as opposed to rational or ‘scientific’ design, which is justified by the doctrine of rationalism. The engineering success of these two foundational ideas in philosophy will be compared, and their application to contemporary engineering will be noted.  Finally, we will establish empirical design as a valid method for engineering in any age.  

Thomas E. Boothbyis Professor of Architectural Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University, a post he has occupied for the past 26 years.  His research interests are focused on history of construction.  He has examined masonry bridges in the US, iron bridges in the US, and medieval and Early Christian churches in Europe. His current interests include the understanding of empirical design in ancient through modern engineering.  Dr. Boothby has authored two books, Engineering Iron and Stone(2015),  a summary of the engineering design methods used in the late nineteenth century, and Empirical Design for Architects, Engineers, and Builders (to appear, June 2018), a textbook of empirical design.  


100 Years:  Building on Experience. This event is free and open to the public.

Celebrating the Anniversary of the Associated General Contractors Association of America (AGC)

 Thursday, May 24, 2018 4:30 – 6:30 pm with reception afterwards

Room 1111 Architecture Building, University of Maryland, College Park

One hundred years ago, in 1918, ninety-six general contracting companies from around the country met at the old LaSalle Hotel in Chicago to form the Associated General Contractors Association of America.

The Construction History Society of America, with support from AGC of America, celebrates this occasion at their 6thBiennial Meeting with a special session.

The program will be introduced by AGC and continue with the following speakers:


Brian Turmail, Vice President of Public Affairs & Strategic Initiatives 


Kenneth D. Durr, Vice President, History Services; History Associates


Sara E. Wermiel, Independent Scholar, Historic Preservation Consultant and Educator    

Scott Lewis, Projects Editor, Engineering News-Record

William E. Reifsteck II, DBIA, CRIS, Director of Preonstruction, Webcor Builders

The event will be followed by a light reception sponsored by the AGC at which copies of the centennial book 100 Years, Building on Experiencewill be available for sale.

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Kenneth D. Durr

 100 Years:  Building on Experience

Ken Durr’s remarks touch on the process of writing the 100-year story of the Associated General Contractors (AGC), share a few historical highlights, and close with some lessons learned about the development of general contracting and the legacy of the AGC.  

Kenneth D. Durr started with History Associates in 1991. He oversees a wide range of projects including books and monographs, on-line histories and time lines, chronologies, and oral history programs.  Dr. Durr also has an extensive background in the history of U.S. financial regulation, particularly the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission. He earned a bachelor’s degree in American studies at Kent State University and holds master’s and doctoral degrees in twentieth-century American political and social history from American University, where he has also served as an adjunct professor.


Scott Lewis

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Some Highlights of the U.S. Construction Industry in 1918, as Reflected in Engineering News-Record

With the country’s manufacturing and transport sectors being transformed to serve wartime priorities, the construction industry that year was seriously disrupted. Water and wastewater systems were still not universal in scope, with public health implications. Methods and practices of public works departments received considerable coverage (whereas today they are outside the magazine’s scope).

Scott Lewis produces quarterly features for ENR on world record structures, such as green roofs, domes, and immersed-tube tunnels. He has contributed retrospectives about the birth of the Interstate Highway System and the first New York City subway. He has been team leader on special reports about dream projects and workers’ voices. And he contributes market sector overviews to ENR’s Sourcebook issues. Before joining ENR he was a researcher with NBC Nightly News.




William E. Reifsteck II


The Sollitt Family:  Building America Since 1838

Brief outline of the Oldest Known General Contracting Company in America


Bill is a nationally renowned Construction Executive having been awarded the Design-Build Distinguished Leadership Award by DBIA in 2010 celebrating his over 35 years of Leadership in the construction industry. Bill has participated in projects in the Industrial, Healthcare, Higher Education and Public Sector.  He has directed the industrial business unit of a multi-national Design-Build Contractor.  Bill has been nationally and internationally recognized as a leader in several construction trade associations and has authored several articles on the construction Best Practices”.  Bill is the author of the critically acclaimed historical book on the construction of Notre Dame Stadium. Bill is currently Director of Preconstruction services at Webcor Builders, a Design-Builder and General Contractor.  



Sara E. Wermiel

Emergence of General Contracting in the United States

Why is building called “contracting,” and when did “general contractors” first appear? In this presentation, these questions are answered, and the emergence of general contracting is illustrated through the careers of some early general contractors.

Sara E. Wermiel is an independent scholar, historic preservation consultant, and teacher. Her specialties are the history of nineteenth-century American technology, industrialization, and urbanization. She has written many articles and a book on the main subjects of her research: structural fire protection and the development of new construction materials and assemblies in the nineteenth century. She also has researched and published on the history of general contracting, building typologies (e.g. historic warehouses, lighthouses), and business history topics (fire insurance and textile industries in the nineteenth century). Dr. Wermiel is active in the fields of construction history and industrial heritage. Her teaching has focused on historical construction materials and assemblies, and policies and programs to protect built heritage. She received a B. A. from Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio; professional degree in urban planning (Master of Urban Planning) from Hunter College, City University of New York; and doctorate in urban history and history of technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 


The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) is the leading association for the construction industry. AGC represents more than 26,000 firms, including over 6,500 of America’s leading general contractors, and over 9,000 specialty-contracting firms. More than 10,500 service providers and suppliers are also associated with AGC, all through a nationwide network of chapters.