Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Wilfred Emory Cutshaw (25 January 1838–19 December 1907), civil engineer, was born in Harpers Ferry and was the son of George W. Cutshaw, a merchant tailor, and Martha J. Moxley Cutshaw. He was educated at home and at a local academy. After graduating from the Virginia Military Institute in 1858, Cutshaw became an instructor of mathematics and artillery tactics at John Baytop Cary's Hampton Male and Female Academy, often referred to as the Hampton Military Academy.

After resigning his teaching position in the spring of 1861, Cutshaw secured a commission as second lieutenant in the Confederate provisional army. He served as an engineer under Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson until March 1862, when Cutshaw received permission to organize an artillery company, of which he was elected captain. During an assault on Winchester in May of that year, he was wounded in the left knee and captured soon after the battle. Federal officers paroled Cutshaw in August 1862 on condition that he remain within Union lines in Frederick or Jefferson Counties. In April 1863 he was imprisoned at Fort McHenry and exchanged the following month. Deemed unfit for duty in June, Cutshaw returned to VMI, where he served as acting commandant of cadets until the end of August. He was assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia as an artillery inspector and promoted to major on 27 February 1864. Cutshaw had taken command of an artillery battalion with the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia by 19 March 1864. He led the battalion in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, where it suffered heavy losses on 12 May defending the salient known as the Mule Shoe. Cutshaw received a wound in the right arm but remained in command when his unit accompanied the Second Corps to the Shenandoah Valley. The battalion fought in the trenches around Petersburg early in 1865. After receiving promotion to lieutenant colonel in the last month of the war, Cutshaw was wounded on 6 April at the Battle of Saylers Creek and lost his right leg above the knee. Captured again, he was paroled in June 1865.

By 1866 Cutshaw had become assistant professor of mathematics and assistant commandant of cadets at the Virginia Military Institute. He left Lexington in January 1868 to work at the Dover Coal and Iron Company in Henrico County, but by the next year he had returned to VMI as an assistant professor of physics and later of civil and military engineering. He took charge of the engineering department during the 1872–1873 academic year.

On 23 June 1873 Cutshaw became engineer for the city of Richmond. Despite the bleak economic climate of the 1870s, he urged that the developing city adopt a comprehensive approach to planning and begin implementing systematic improvements. One of his first acts was the assessment and demolition in 1874 of Richmond's city hall (1814–1816), designed by the noted architect Robert Mills. Cutshaw's dispassionate judgment of the structure's vulnerabilities marked the first occasion of many when he played a decisive role in determining the architectural landscape of the city.

Cutshaw often viewed improvements to the Richmond cityscape with the pragmatism of a civil engineer, but his personal tastes drove the city's architectural program. A majority of the armories, markets, and schools constructed during Cutshaw's thirty-four years as city engineer were in the Italianate style, seen in such diverse municipal buildings as Steamer Company No. 5, a combination fire station and police precinct house, and in his designs for the Marshall Street Market (1875), the Clay Ward Market (1891), West End School (later Stonewall Jackson School, 1887), and Randolph Street School (1896). His career coincided with the height of armory construction in the United States. The distinctive castellated armories built under Cutshaw's direction included those for the First Virginia Regiment (1882), the First Regiment Cavalry Virginia Volunteers (1895), the First Virginia Volunteers Battalion (1895), and the Richmond Howitzers Battalion (1895).

Cutshaw saw public parks as essential elements of a modern city. Under his direction, the city acquired more than 300 acres of land on its western edge to provide space and facilities for a new pumping station and reservoir. He designed this multiple-use area (which became known as New Reservoir Park and later as William Byrd Park) to accommodate a tree nursery from which the streets of Richmond were landscaped. Cutshaw's 1904 report Trees of the City emphasized the importance of planting tree species appropriate for their locations. Believing that public spaces for recreation, especially for children, were of great importance, he designed several other city parks and expanded existing ones.

Cutshaw established goals of permanent, rational, and comprehensive design for his concept of municipal improvement. In 1875 he used the improvement of the Union Hill section of Richmond as a demonstration. Cutshaw's plan began with the installation of main sewers, followed by grading streets for drainage; laying branch sewer, gas, and water lines; installing sidewalks, gutters, and stone curbs; and finally paving roads. Cutshaw maintained that these were basic principles of modern city design and construction and that the example of Union Hill could be applied consistently to the entire city.

In 1883 Cutshaw's intervention led the city council to award the design for a new city hall to Elijah E. Myers. Cutshaw became supervising engineer for the building, and despite considerable cost overruns, his reputation was undiminished. Although the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Richmond's Libby Hill was not a municipal project, Cutshaw's influence came to the fore in 1888 when he was named to the design committee, which proposed a monument based on Pompey's Pillar, near Alexandria, Egypt. Cutshaw was the engineer in charge of constructing the column surmounted by a statue of a Confederate soldier, which was completed in 1894.

On 21 December 1876 Cutshaw married Emma S. Thornton Norfleet, a widow. She died of cholera thirteen days later. He married Margaret Watkins Morton on 21 January 1890. They had no children before her death on 15 December of that year. Continuing his work as city engineer through his final illness, Wilfred Emory Cutshaw died of kidney disease at the Richmond home of his niece on 19 December 1907. He was buried in the city's Hollywood Cemetery. In 1908 a small triangular park bordered by Stuart and Park Avenues and Meadow Street was renamed Cutshaw Place, and by 1923 Cutshaw Avenue bore his name.

Sources Consulted:
Biographies in William Wirt Henry and Ainsworth R. Spofford, Eminent and Representative Men of Virginia and the District of Columbia of the Nineteenth Century (1893), 432–433, and Selden Richardson, "'Architect of the City': Wilfred Emory Cutshaw (1838–1907) and Municipal Architecture in Richmond" (M.A. thesis, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1996); Marriage Register, Richmond City (1876, 1890), Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia (LVA); Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers (1861–1865), War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Record Group 109, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Richmond City Council Records (1873–1874), 129; Architectural Drawings and Plats, Office of City Engineer, Richmond, LVA; obituaries and editorial tributes in Richmond News Leader, 20 Dec. 1907, and Richmond Times-Dispatch, 20 Dec. 1907 (portrait); obituary in Confederate Veteran 16 (1908): 83–84.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Selden Richardson.

How to cite this page:
Selden Richardson, "Wilfred Emory Cutshaw (1838–1907)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2006 (https://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Cutshaw_Wilfred_E, accessed [today's date]).

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