|Thomas Tileston Waterman
The Historic Archtectural
Building Survey (HABS)
Thomas T. Waterman was an architects in the Branch of Plans and Designs of the Historic Archtectural Building Survey
(HABS) in Washington, DC.
Thomas Tileston Waterman (1900–1951) was an architect and architectural historian. He studied and published early
American buildings, especially in the Tidewater, Virginia area, and between 1928 and 1932, worked on major
architectural reconstruction projects at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, with the Boston architectural firm, Perry, Shaw,
and Hepburn. After graduating from high school, Waterman clerked in the Boston architectural firm of Cram and
Ferguson as a junior and senior draftsman.Thomas Waterman trained in the office of renowned Boston architect Ralph
Adams Cram. From Cram, he learned the importance of understanding past architectural styles in order to better render
new designs. Cram encouraged him travelling to Majorca to measure the Cathedral of Palma.
Waterman acquired a passion for the preservation of endangered architecture from William Sumner Appleton at the
Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, who recruited him to assist in creating emergency
documentation. As further preparation for his role in the newly created HABS program, Waterman also completed work
at Colonial Williamsburg for the restoration architects Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn. Waterman was one of the first
draftsman to be hired for this commission. He had already (in 1926 photographed the Wren Building at the College of
William Mary. Like most practicing architects during this era, Waterman had no formal degree, but he demonstrated
exceptional competence as both an architect and historian. In 1932, he became an architectural consultant to Henry
Francis de Pont and his home, Winterthur, in Delaware.
In 1933, he was employed by the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., where he would come to work on the
Historic American Buildings Survey. He became an associate architect for HABS and supervisor of recording efforts
along the eastern seaboard from 1933 to 1942. His knowledge of early design and building construction was of great aid
in working with local architects and historians in selected buildings to be recorded. As architectural director he was
responsible for the standard and scope of the survey. All reports and drafts 14,500 sheets of them required the TTW
mark of final approval.
When former HABS photographer John Brostrup was asked what Thomas Waterman was like, he described a complex
and intense personality: "Tom is hard to describe. He was dedicated to authenticity, to the purity of the duplication of
forms, moldings, details as well as plans and elevations. He was a purist."
The American Institute of Architects' (AIA) Committee on the Preservation of Historic Buildings had first endorsed a
national survey with the intent of "securing records of structures of historic interest" in 1918.
HABS emerged from the Great Depression and the New Deal reform efforts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first
administration. In 1933, the Civil Works Administration solicited ideas for employment initiatives, including initiatives
for professionals most impacted by the Depression. The original HABS experiment, funded by the Civil Works
Administration, was intended to last only three months, from mid November 1933 to mid-February 1934 A young
National Park Service landscape architect, Charles Peterson, wrote the memorandum outlining the basic form of HABS
on November 13, 1933.2 According to Peterson, approximately 1,000 architects and draftsmen could be quickly
employed to study, measure, and draw “important antique buildings.” Peterson used the growing Federal bureaucracy
to support and centralize an ongoing interest in architectural documentation among many private-sector architects. After
securing funding from Federal Relief Administrator Harry Hopkins, the National Park Service formally activated HABS on
December 12, 1933.
the Washington office, recommended that the program consider pre-1860 structures representing “a complete resume
of the builders’ art,” including “public buildings, churches, residences, bridges, forts, barns, mills, shops, rural
outbuildings,” and others.6 (Figure 1) Peterson emphasized that buildings should be selected for HABS documentation
on the basis of academic interest, not on commercial interest in historic models for new buildings that had tended to
drive previous studies of historic American architecture. Thomas T. Waterman contributed photographs to the
A few years after the creation of HABS, an extensive effort was launched to produce an overview history for each district
that would be gathered into a six-volume publication titled “Outline of the Development of Early American Architecture.”
50 The publication would be illustrated with drawings and photographs, but would primarily highlight broad historical
narratives lost in the individual structure format of the collection. The district officers would be the primary writers and
Thomas T. Waterman would edit the manuscripts into a publication. Many district officers had extensive knowledge of
regional history and forms through their architectural practices, but not all were able to compile a regional history. John
Scarff, district officer for Maryland, completed a reasonably lengthy history but worried about its quality, admitting that
the writing process “at least taught me the difference between an Architect and an Historian.”
In 1939 he wrote A SURVEY OF THE EARLY BUILDINGS IN THE REGION 0F THE PROPOSED SANTEE AND
PINOPOLIS RESERVOIRS IN SOUTH CAROLINA UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
National Park Service Historic American Buildings Survey by Thomas T. Waterman, Associate Architect.
The Early Architecture of North Carolina (published 1941) featured more than 240 of Francis Benjamin Johnston’s
views, along with text she had co-authored with HABS historian Thomas T. Waterman, who independently had spent a
fair amount of time in North Carolina photographing historic buildings for HABS. Of all her publications, Johnston
considered the North Carolina book to be her “very own.”(38) She oversaw the research, finances, writing, photography,
design, and publication. For his part, Waterman contributed information from HABS field notes and other documentation.
He also published Domestic Colonial Architecture of Tidewater Virginia, C. Scribner's Sons, 1932 with J. A. Barrows.
The Dwellings of Colonial America. University of Nowth Carolina Press, 1950.
|Trinity Episcopal Church
Historic American Buildings Survey
Thomas T. Waterman, Photographer
NORTH FRONT (N. KING ST. ELEVATION)
Saint George & King Streets,
St. Johns County, FL
|Carpenter Gothic House
232 St. George
Stanbury Cottage (Gingerbread House)
Historic American Buildings Survey
Thomas T. Waterman, Photographer 1936 -
St. Johns County, FL