Charles Morse Stotz: The Man Who Recorded Our Past
by James Wudarczyk - 2004
There is no doubt that many in the Lawrenceville historical community do not recognize the name of Charles Morse Stotz. This is unfortunate because he was the man who recorded our past. Sources
Telephone interview with John Carnprobst, Thursday, July 26, 2004.
Charles Stotz was not only a man who loved history; he was also a man who dedicated his life to preserving as much of the past as he could, so that posterity could also share in the rich legacy of history. He was a man of many talents, who like the man in the biblical story took and multiplied his talents for the benefit of others.
When Stotz passed away on May 5, 1985, at the age of 86, Robert C. Albert s, a long-time secretary for the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, wrote: “The great purpose of life,” the philosopher William James said one hundred years ago, “is to spend it on something that outlasts us.” Charles Morse Stotz was in this respect happier and more fortunate than most other men of our time. He left behind him very much that will outlast him.
For example, as an architect. In his professional career, he designed and supervised the construction of houses, churches, clubs, civic buildings, industrial buildings, and a great research laboratory. As an architect specializing in the preservation and restoration of buildings of our past, he performed very broad services on some forty buildings or complexes of buildings historically important to Western Pennsylvania. These include Old Economy in Ambridge, the Bradford House in Washington, Pennsylvania, the reconstruction of Fort Ligonier, and the reconstruction of part of Fort Pitt to serve as Pittsburgh’s first and only historical museum.
In his folksy way, newspaper columnist Gilbert Love also wrote of Charles Stotz:
He’s a leading architect, and has headed all sorts of architecture and art societies and commissions in these and other parts.
Somewhere along the way he got interested in the early buildings of Western Pennsylvania, became an authority on them, and wrote the aforementioned book on them. (This is a reference to Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania).
When he became particularly interested in the early forts I don’t know. He reports that they have been an avocation for the past ten years, but our clippings show that he was working on plans for Point Park in the middle 1940’s.
He went to England to get plans for the reconstruction of Fort Ligonier, which he designed and supervised.
In addition to being an expert on old forts, he’s an interesting writer. He has written some real fancy prose in Architectural Forum and other publications on places that he loves in Europe.
As early as 1934, Stotz had established quite a reputation in the field of historic preservation and documentation. Writing of his work, the Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine reported, “An Historical American Building Survey has been set up as a Civil Works Administration project in the office of national parks, buildings, and reservations of the United States Department of Interior for the purpose of making measured drawings and records of structures of all types erected in the United States down to about 1860. In western Pennsylvania the project is being developed as an extension of work already done by the Western Pennsylvania Architectural Survey and Mr. Charles M. Stotz is the director of both activities.”
In his memorial tribute to Stotz, Robert C. Alberts also noted:
Charlie also left behind him some other important books, in addition to Point of Empire. One was Drums in the Forest. Another was Early Western Pennsylvania Architecture, which is a classic in its field-a happy combination of history, architecture, and art that only he could have produced.
And now we have his latest and, alas, his last book: Outposts of the War for Empire: The French and English in Western Pennsylvania, Their Armies, Their Forts, Their People, 1749-1764. This is again, a book that only he could have produced, for he not only researched and wrote it, but he illustrated it with his own drawings- including almost a score of gemlike aerial views of the forts as they appeared in the eighteenth century.
In reviewing Outposts of the War for Empire, Rich Gigler, a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Press stated, “His precise architectural drawings and descriptions of the 24 French, British and Colonial forts that played a part in the ‘war for empire’ are probably the best and most accurate collection of the white man’s earliest architecture in Western Pennsylvania.”
Precision and accuracy are terms that go hand-in-hand with Stotz’s works, whether they are buildings designs, historical books, or architectural drawings. It is difficult to sum up the genius of a man in a few brief paragraphs, but a man’s work will outlive the person. So it is with Charles Morse Stotz. Born in Ingram, Pennsylvania, in 1898, Stotz is credited with having designed 903 buildings, was a founder of the American Institute of Architects, member of the city Building Code Commission, and was a life-long Republican, Presbyterian, Mason, and Knight Templar.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s America was going through a tremendous transformation, and many of its architectural treasures were being lost. Stotz, among others, sought to photograph and make detailed drawings of buildings in danger of being razed, as well as early architecture of the nation. In 1936 alone there were 154 books produced on American architectural history. Among these books was Stotz’s classic treatise on early Western Pennsylvania architecture.
The members of the Lawrenceville historical community owe a great debt to Stotz for two main reasons: first, in the Historic American Building Survey, he left a legacy of dozens of photographs and detailed drawings of the Allegheny Arsenal; and second, in his book, Early Western Pennsylvania Architecture, there are reproductions of the early survey of both the Allegheny Arsenal and Croghan’s “Picnic” or more commonly referred to as the Schenley Estate on Black Horse Hill. It should be noted that when Stotz was working on the historic survey between 1934 and 1936, a number of the structures associated with the Allegheny Arsenal had already been razed to make room for warehousing facilities to meet the needs of World War I, but there were a number of historic structures that were still standing on the lower grounds. Since then, most of these buildings have been demolished. As for the Croghan mansion, by the time Stotz began to photograph and make calculated drawings, the estate was in great disrepair. Today, with the exception of the ballroom, which is now housed in the University of Pittsburgh, there are no traces of “Picnic.” The great mansion met the wrecking ball in order to make room for more housing. So, in effect, Stotz was recording our heritage.
In recent years, the University of Pittsburgh Press reproduced Stotz’s 1936 book and the Historic American Building Survey has been added to the Internet. Both projects warrant viewing by those interested in our community’s past.
John Carnprobst, the foremost authority on the Allegheny Arsenal, met Charles Stotz on one occasion in 1961. Carnprobst’s visit to Stotz’s downtown office was two-fold: first, he wanted to secure additional information relating to the military facility; and second, he hoped to stop planned demolition of some of the remaining historical structures by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Recalling that visit, Mr. Carnprobst said that Stotz was a very nice gentleman. As soon as the topic of saving the remains of the Allegheny Arsenal was addressed, Stotz lamented, “You’re fifty years too late. I’ve been trying for fifty years but haven’t been able to get anywhere.”
So while Stotz lost the battle for preservation of the Arsenal, he definitely left behind quite a legacy in many other areas.
Rich Gigler, “Study of Frontier Forts Worthy of Its Proportions,” The Pittsburgh Press, May 5, 1985.
Robert C. Alberts, “Charles Morse Stotz: A Memorial,” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, Vol. 68, 1985. pp. 265-266.
Gilbert Love, “What Good Is History!” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, Vol. 42, 1959. pp. 145-146.
“News and Comments,” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, Vol. 17, 1934. p. 71.
For the Historic American Building Survey, refer to http://lcweb.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?hh:1:;/temp/~ammem-kymg::
Charles Morse Stotz, The Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh and London: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995 (originally published in 1936).
*Special thanks are extended to Lydia Wudarczyk for her assistance on this project.