Orlando Ridout V, architectural historian

Orlando Ridout V

Orlando Ridout V, a historian of early Maryland buildings who explored crawl spaces and attics for their social and architectural details, died of pancreatic cancer complications April 6 at Anne Arundel Medical Center. The lifelong Annapolis resident was 59.

"He literally wrote the book on Annapolis and its 18th-century architectural history," said Pete Lesher, chief curator at Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. "He was one of those persons whose reputations literally did precede him. When I first met him, I expected a button-down look. I found he had a gregarious, outgoing manner and his hair could be on the wild side, with a full beard. He was easy to talk to and was thoroughly accessible."


He was the son of Orlando Ridout IV, a Maryland Historical Trust founding director, and Elisabeth Lawton Ridout, an artist. An ancestor, John Ridout, came to Annapolis in 1753 as secretary to Gov. Horatio Sharpe.

"What he really had a passion for was getting things right," said a friend, Willie Graham, curator of architecture for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. "He liked to get out and look at buildings and study them first-hand, getting his hands on them and then learning how to read them."


He was raised on a family farm at White Hall on the Broadneck Peninsula and later lived in houses near the City Dock and on Ridout Row in downtown Annapolis.

"My brother's youthful experiences among the houses and landscapes of the tidewater Chesapeake led him to a career as an architectural historian," said his sister, Mollie Ridout of Annapolis.

After graduating from Annapolis High School in 1972, he earned a degree in architectural history at the University of Virginia. He then began a lengthy association with the Maryland Historical Trust and soon rose to be chief of research, survey and registration.

One of his first assignments was as a field surveyor of Queen Anne's County structures where he developed an interest in early agricultural structures. He found others interested in old barns and was a founder of the Friends of Friendless Farm Buildings, which later expanded and became the Vernacular Architecture Forum.

"He had a knowledge of the architecture of the Chesapeake region," said a friend, Carl Lounsbury, senior architectural historian at Colonial Williamsburg. "He had grown up on a farm and he knew barns, dairies, stables, tobacco houses, granaries and corn houses better than anyone in the region. He used buildings to discuss their social history."

"He was a phenomenally hard-working, analytical guy who really advanced his field," said J. Rodney Little, director of the Maryland Historical Trust. "He was an expert on nails and he loved the nitty-gritty field stuff, crawling under buildings or examining a hot and baking attic. He was really more of an archaeologist who did work above the ground."

He was named a City of Annapolis "Living Landmark" and received the Maryland Historic Trust's Calvert Prize in 2012.

Friends who live in the state capital said he was an advocate for its history and preservation. Mr. Ridout often testified before the city council and the Historic Preservation Commission.

Mr. Ridout wrote "Building the Octagon" and was a co-editor of "Architecture in Annapolis: A Field Guide." He wrote a chapter on agricultural buildings in a new work, "Chesapeake House, Architectural Investigation."

"His research and work will survive, but only the people who knew him can recall his knowing wit and the twinkle in his eye," said Nancy Miller Schamu, a retired preservationist who lives in Federal Hill.

Mr. Ridout also taught a course, "Field Methods for Architectural History," at George Washington University

"He was so at ease with people; he taught so many of us in the field his art of reading a historic structure through the clues it contained," said the Maritime Museum's Peter Lesher.


Friends said he was patient with students and their requests.

"He was one of the most generous persons I have ever met," said Marcia Miller, a colleague at the trust who lives in Crofton. "It is remarkable how many people he has influenced, especially students and colleagues in preservation."

Family members said he enjoyed the outdoors and collected art. He purchased paintings at the annual Paint Annapolis event. He also tried his own hand at oil landscape painting. In recent years, he vacationed in Utah with his family. They hunted fossils and hiked together.

Plans for a life celebration are incomplete.

In addition to his sister and father, survivors include his wife of 37 years, the former Barbara Cooper; and his daughters, Rachel Ridout of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Rebecca Ridout of Annapolis. His mother died in 2011.

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