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Port in Progress

May 25, 2007

Perry's contributions to Port seen today

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William Graves Perry may have been slight of stature, but his talent, attention to detail, Bostonian appreciation of history, Yankee work ethic, and meticulous demeanor made him an architectural giant during the age of American moguls.

Born in 1884 in Boston | only 20 years after the end of the Civil War | Perry was the son of Charles F. Perry and Georgianna West (Graves), a descendant of an old Newburyport seafaring family. He grew up in Newburyport in family wealth in a High Street mansion, graduating from Harvard, MIT and Paris' L'Ecole des Beaux Arts by 1913, just in time to serve in Europe from 1915 to 1916 during World War I.

By the time he returned to Newburyport to save its once-grand city center from annihilation, this 19th century gentleman had long acquired his well-earned celebrity in both the worlds of architecture and history. As a founder of his architectural firm in 1922, Perry earned a reputation for himself as a fine designer of college, private school and other commercial buildings. Locally, Perry designed Plum Island's American Yacht Club in 1908, and it was Perry who got the call to design St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Newburyport, after the chapel burned.

But it was his work as the architect handpicked by industrial czar and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to design Colonial Williamsburg, an American living history treasure in Virginia, that would lead Perry to architectural immortality.

"He was in his 80s when I joined the firm in 1965," said West Newbury retired architect Peter Ringenbach. "I was in my 20s and a young architect, and he was sort of the firm icon. He was not a large man at all, maybe five foot seven or eight. He was a person of extreme detail, and he knew what he wanted.

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