Passion for history prompts gift

| May 19, 2012

When Tusculum’s owner sold the property in 2006, Sweet Briar obtained funding to deconstruct and inventory the timber-frame house to preserve the materials. The house is seen here circa 1960s.

Cynthia Wilson Ottaway ’57 has committed $500,000, to be apportioned over the next decade, to establish the Ottaway Endowed Fund in support of the Tusculum Institute. Annual contributions will be split between programming costs and building an endowment to fund Tusculum’s core mission of environmentally sustainable historic preservation and education over the long term.

Ottaway, who has previously made donations to the College for historical preservation, says she is motivated by her love for history and the heritage that old buildings represent.

The Tusculum Institute is named for the childhood home of Maria Crawford Fletcher, mother of Sweet Briar founder Indiana Fletcher Williams. The institute’s mission — and the fact that many of the 18th-century home’s architectural elements are being preserved — is deeply appealing to Ottaway. If she could rebuild the house to its original form, she would, she says.

The house stood on the site of the former Tusculum Plantation, just north of Sweet Briar. When the owner sold the property in 2006, Sweet Briar obtained funding to deconstruct and inventory the timber-frame house to preserve the materials. Although plans for the institute originally included reconstruction of the building, its focus has shifted to academic and educational programming; reconstruction has been indefinitely postponed.

Ottaway’s father was from Virginia and growing up, she spent a lot of time in the state. She remembers visiting Williamsburg and watching the archaeologists dig. Later, she took her own children there and to the homes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others.

“If I can find a project that replicates that, I’m all for it,” she says. “I have an imagination. I can go through those houses in Williamsburg and just feel like I’m back in the seventeen hundreds.”

Ottaway recognizes the College has many needs, but she’s long appreciated its efforts to preserve its heritage by maintaining Sweet Briar House, the slave cabin and other structures, or reusing buildings such as the train station.

“I think alumnae tend to want to support, and rightfully so, professors and classes. But somebody has to support the history of the College and that’s where I come in.”

Ottaway views the Tusculum Institute as an “excellent instrument” to pass on to younger generations the value of preserving historical buildings and places in an environmentally sustainable way. The institute is committed to the idea that old can be made new again, saving resources and honoring the rich historical legacy of the region.

“I have great confidence in the fact that the institute is in good hands,” Ottaway said.

Two of those hands belong to Lynn Rainville, the founding director of the institute. Rainville, who has a doctorate in anthropology and archaeology, has done extensive research on the history of Sweet Briar Plantation, especially its enslaved families and their descendents.

As director, she works closely with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, architectural historians, preservationists and other professionals on community outreach to those interested in saving historical structures, as well as teacher development and school programs.

“The Tusculum Institute is very fortunate to receive Ms. Ottaway’s support,” Rainville said. “Her generous gift will enable us to host years of programming to support the College’s mission while researching and preserving historic places on the Sweet Briar campus and beyond.”


Contact: Jennifer McManamay


Category: Anthropology, Archaeology, History, Uncategorized