Mott Schmidt Biography

Country Houses
by Mark Alan Hewitt

Academic interest in Colonial and Federal architecture reached its highest levels during the 1920s and 1930s. A survey taken in 1925 by Architectural Record affirmed the popularity of the movement: 231 out of 571 houses published in their annual country house editions from 1923-25 were in some American Colonial idiom. After World War I the handful of great firms following the school of McKim, Mead and White were augmented by smaller firms and individual architects like Schmidt who took an even more active interest in American building traditions as inspiration for new work. Research tools for these architects included archaeological and historical studies such as Fiske Kimball's Domestic Architecture of the American Colonies and the Early Republic of 1922.

During the 1930s Kimball, along with other noted architects such as William Lawrence Bottomley, John Mead Howells and Dwight James Baum, were instrumental in forming the Architects' Emergen­cy Committee which documented outstanding colonial houses. (Schmidt subscribed to this series and had an extensive collection of measured drawings of colonial houses in his office.) Architectural journals regularly ran articles with titles like "The Early Architecture of Pennsylvania;" which recorded and analyzed the styles of the various colonial regions. Another serialization which had a profound effect on the dissemination of American precedents was the popular White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs, published under the auspices of a group of lumber manufacturers from 1915 to 1940. (Like most architects of his generation, Schmidt would have been a subscriber.) These were joined by books of measured drawings and details, many of which could be found on the drafting tables of architects like Schmidt. The movement toward Colonial authenticity culminated in the Rockefeller-financed restoration of Williamsburg, Virginia, between the years of 1927 and 1935.

Mott Schmidt may well have been in attendance when Fiske Kimball gave his lectures on American Colonial domestic architecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1920. In his country house work, the architect consistently used the most popular models appearing in these sources on early American architecture. Schmidt's first large houses were designed in the "New England Colonial" vein, recalling clapboard farmhouses published in the 1918-19 issues of the White Pine series. The H.H. Anderson and Mrs. F.C. Havemeyer (Figure 23) houses of 1923, both in Roslyn, Long Island, are simple essays in the white clapboard, dark shuttered saltbox type which had long since become part of the rural vernacular. They demonstrate Schmidt's cautious striving for an authentic colonial simplicity.

Most clients, however, wanted something a little more preten­tious than a frame farmhouse, something more classical. Two other early Schmidt houses, for A. K. Wampole in Guilford, Maryland (c. 1919), and Ormsby Mitchell in Rye, New York (c. 1920), experimented with a brick Georgian vocabulary (Figures 24 & 25) derived from the famous Virginia river plantations. The Mitchell house is also heavily influenced by the work of Charles Platt, especially his Maxwell Court in Rockville, Connecticut (1901-03), and The Moorings for Russell Alger in Detroit (1908-10). Both houses treat the center pediment and fenestration in the same way, but Platt's designs are a good deal more resolved in proportion and detail. With these early commissions, Schmidt established the paradigms which he would generally follow in his larger houses.

FIGURE 23. Mrs F.C. Havemeyer House, Roslyn, Long Island, 1923
Architectural Record 60, November 1926
FIGURE 24. A.K. Wampole House, Guilford Maryland, 1917
Architectural Record
FIGURE 25. Ormsby Mitchell House, Rye, New York, 1920
Rosanna G. Liebman