Orlando Ridout, Maryland architecture historian, dies at 59

April 17, 2013

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

Mr. Ridout 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.

He was born Oct. 13, 1953, and was raised on a family farm at White Hall on the Broadneck Peninsula. He 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.


Orlando Ridout V, a historian of early Maryland buildings who explored crawl spaces and attics for their social and architectural details, died April 6 of pancreatic cancer at 59. (Family Photo )

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 who were 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 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.”

Mr. Ridout was known as a “living landmark” of Annapolis and often testified before the City Council and the Historic Preservation Commission. He received the Maryland Historical Trust’s Calvert Prize last year.

He was an editor of “Architecture in Annapolis: A Field Guide.” He wrote a chapter on agricultural buildings in a new work, “The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg,” and taught a course, “Field Methods for Architectural History,” at George Washington University.

“He was a phenomenally hardworking, 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.”

Survivors include his wife of 37 years, the former Barbara Cooper, of Annapolis; two daughters, Rachel Ridout of Brooklyn, and Rebecca Ridout of Annapolis; his father, Orlando Ridout IV; and sister, Mollie Ridout, both of Annapolis.

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

— Baltimore Sun