Stoney, Samuel Gaillard
Architect, author, historian, preservationist. Stoney is considered by many to be the quintessential Charlestonian. Born in Charleston on August 29, 1891, son of the planter Samuel Stoney, Sr., and Louisa Cheves Smythe, he was descended on his mother’s side from the antebellum writer Louisa McCord and was also related to the writer John Bennett and the preservation architect Albert Simons. After graduating from the College of Charleston, he saw service on the Mexican border. And although he was also an officer in the 318th Field Artillery, 81st Division in France, he never saw combat. A degree in architecture from the Georgia Institute of Technology led to work in Atlanta and New York, where his charm and knowledge brought him into contact with artists and scholars. His interest in Gullah enabled him to serve as a dialogue coach for actors in Porgy and so piqued the interest of the author Gertrude Mathews Shelby that she convinced Stoney to coauthor two books with her: a collection of creation tales told in Gullah, Black Genesis (1930); and a novel on the tragedy of miscegenation, Po’ Buckra (1930).
In 1933, at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, Stoney met and married the New England poet (and later novelist) Frances Frost. They moved to Charleston, and the marriage ended in divorce. Stoney then began a frank love affair with his native city. President of the South Carolina Historical Society, the Preservation Society, Historic Charleston Foundation, the Huguenot Society, and other organizations, Stoney helped document the city’s past while fighting to save much of its architecture. His stubborn stands gained him both detractors and devotees. Living simply, he became a familiar sight on Charleston’s streets, where he was known as much for his sandals and shirtsleeves as his curiosity, knowledge, and wit. He was a frequent and popular speaker on numerous topics, all colored with his affection for his city. He wrote the text to accompany Bayard Wootten’s book of photographs, Charleston: Azaleas and Old Brick (1937), and contributed substantially to seminal works on area architecture: Plantations of the Carolina Low Country (1938) and This Is Charleston (1944), an architectural survey that has been key to the preservation of the physical city. Minor works include The Story of South Carolina’s Senior Bank: The Bank of Charleston and The Dulles Family in South Carolina (both published in 1955).
As author of numerous historical articles, aide to scholars, and contributor to the intellectual life of the city, Stoney built a scholarly foundation for the documentation and study of Charleston, which, in turn, treated him as a favorite son. In May 1968 he was awarded a doctor of letters from the College of Charleston, where he had lectured from 1949 to 1966. He died at his own hand on July 30, 1968. His death, the News and Courier noted, “removes a Charleston landmark as real as the architectural treasures he spent his life fighting to preserve.” He was buried at St. James Goose Creek Episcopal Church, which he had served as senior (and sole) warden for forty years. In 1991, Stoney was posthumously inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors.
“Article Features Stoney and City.” Charleston News and Courier, April 12, 1964, p. C11.
Bowles, Billy E. “Stoney’s Death Takes Away City Landmark.” Charleston News and Courier, August 4, 1968, p. C12.
Greene, Harlan. Mr. Skylark: John Bennett and the Charleston Renaissance. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001.
Leland, Jack. “Samuel Gaillard Stoney: 1891–1968.” Preservation Progress 13 (November 1968): 1, 6.
Rigney, Harriet Stoney Popham. “Samuel Gaillard Stoney: ‘If I Were a House. . . . ’” Carologue 8 (autumn 1992): 6–7, 18–19.