Contributed by Ryan Wheeler
Returning to the Peabody Institute on a more regular basis this month led me to rediscovery an interesting little artifact on the window of my office. When I first joined the Peabody in 2012, my colleagues pointed this out to me, but it has remained largely covered up by window blinds since an initial peek.
The artifact in question is a scratched signature on a glass windowpane: S. P. Moorehead. Singleton Peabody Moorehead was our first curator’s youngest son.
When I first saw this little relic of past occupants, I imagined the younger Moorehead scratching the signature using his father’s emerald ring. That ring is a prominent feature in pictures of Moorehead, and I can imagine a mischievous child borrowing the ring and testing the stone’s hardness on the nearest handy surface: his father’s office window.
Robert Singleton Peabody, our founder, lent his name to the younger Moorehead. In fact, S. P. Moorehead was born in October 1900, right around the time that his father Warren and Robert Peabody were imagining the Department of Archaeology, our name in the early part of the twentieth century. Robert had befriended the elder Moorehead and hired him about a decade earlier to help amass a collection of Native American objects. He also provided convalescent facilities when Moorehead was recovering from tuberculosis. In fact, Singleton Moorehead was born at Saranac, New York where his father was recovering at Peabody’s cabin.
So who was Singleton Peabody Moorehead? He grew up on Hidden Field Road on the Phillips Academy campus, and graduated from the school in 1918. During his time at Phillips, Singleton, or “Sing,” played football, swam, and served as art editor for the Academy’s yearbook Pot-Pourri. He also participated in archaeological projects, including Alfred V. Kidder’s excavations at Pecos Pueblo, New Mexico. Both of Warren Moorehead’s sons, Ludwig and Singleton, served in World War I. After a brief military service, Singleton attended Harvard, where he received undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture (BA in 1922 and M. Arch. in 1927). At Harvard, he continued his association with archaeologists, including a friendship with Philip Phillips. One wonders to what extent Moorehead’s exposure to archaeology prepared him for the Colonial Williamsburg project that became his life’s work?
Singleton joined the Boston architectural firm Perry, Shaw and Hepburn in 1928 and almost immediately began work at the firm’s field office in Williamsburg, Virginia. Here he was involved in the restoration work of Colonial Williamsburg, ultimately joining the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1934, where he worked as director of architecture from 1944 through 1948, and then as a consultant. So, if you’ve visited Colonial Williamsburg, you know Singleton Moorehead’s work! Perhaps one of the best-known structures at Colonial Williamsburg is the capitol building, reconstructed based on elevations, archival descriptions, and archaeological investigations conducted under the director of the Perry, Shaw and Hepburn architects. Another Colonial Williamsburg favorite is Chowning’s Tavern; a 2016 newspaper story on the 1939 reconstruction attributes much of the character of Chowning’s to Moorehead, who was interested in the quotidian aspects of eighteenth century architecture.
He married Cynthia Beverley Tucker Coleman, a descendant of St. George Tucker, a colonial resident of Williamsburg. A New York Times (December 12, 1964) obituary notes his involvement in many other historic preservation and architectural projects, as well as contributions to two books, Colonial Williamsburg: Its Buildings and Gardens (1949) and The Public Buildings of Williamsburg (1958), and authorship of many articles. One such crossover project was Kidder’s revisit of his Pecos excavation, including detailed architectural plans executed by Singleton and published as one of the Peabody Foundation “blue books” in 1958.
S. P. Moorehead died in December 1964 and is interred in the Bruton Parish Church cemetery in Williamsburg.
Lounsbury, Carl R. (1990) Beaux-Arts Ideals and Colonial Reality: The Reconstruction of Williamsburg’s Capitol. Journal of the Society of Architectural History 49(4):373-389.
New York Times (1964) Singleton P. Moorehead Dead: Colonial Williamsburg Planner. December 13, 1964, p. 86.
Singleton P. Moorehead Streetscapes, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation https://rocklib.omeka.net/collections/show/11