Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Finlay Forbes Ferguson (16 November 1875–7 October 1936), architect, was born in Norfolk, and was the son of Charles Martin Ferguson and Mary Fitzgerald Ferguson. He attended Norfolk Academy and received an A.B. and a B.S. from Hampden-Sydney College in 1895 and a B.S. in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1898. After graduating, Ferguson began working as a draftsman with an architect in Norfolk. On 25 November 1902, he married Helen Atkinson Evans, of Norfolk. They had one daughter and one son, Finlay Forbes Ferguson, who also became an architect.

Ferguson was a partner of Norfolk architect Charles Parker Breese in 1902 and 1903. Ferguson then formed a partnership with Charles James Calrow, and they were later joined by Robert Edward Lee Taylor, from 1910 to 1915, and Harold Holmes Wrenn, from 1915 to 1917. In the last year Ferguson and Calrow dissolved and Ferguson formed a new partnership with John Kevan Peebles. Ferguson and his partners designed and planned renovations of or additions to numerous residences, churches, commercial buildings, and government facilities. Most were in Norfolk, where they had a large influence on the appearance of the commercial heart of the city and its ecclesiastical architecture. They also worked on commissions from several neighboring counties and the cities of Newport News, Richmond, and Williamsburg.

Ferguson and Calrow designed the 1905 science building for the campus of the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, and the Portlock School (later known as Old Portlock School No. 5) in Norfolk County (later the city of Chesapeake) in 1908 that featured an innovative neoclassical design. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Ferguson's early commissions in Norfolk included the Second Presbyterian Church (later Unitarian Church of Norfolk), in 1902. It was constructed in the Gothic Revival style, which Ferguson employed for some of the other churches his firms designed, including Ghent Presbyterian Church (later First Presbyterian Church), of which he was a member. Other houses of worship designed by Ferguson include Ohef Sholom Temple (1917), Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church (1919), Ghent Methodist Episcopal Church (later Ghent United Methodist Church; 1922), and Sacred Heart Catholic Church (1925). The neo-classical Royster Building, in downtown Norfolk, was the city's tallest building for fifty years after its completion in 1912. Designed by Ferguson, Calrow, and Taylor, it marked a significant point in the development of Granby Street as the commercial center of twentieth-century Norfolk. With his firms, Ferguson helped design other important buildings for the city's business district, including the Norfolk National Bank (1909), the Monticello Hotel (1918), and the art deco Norfolk Newspapers, Inc., building (1936–1937). His firm also participated in designing the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences (later the Chrysler Museum of Art), which opened in 1933 with the support of the Norfolk Society of Arts, of which his wife was president.

Ferguson's firms designed Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church (1922) and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (1932–1935), both in Richmond, as well as a new education building (Peabody Hall; 1913–1914) for the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, a dormitory (1916) and Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall (later Ewell Hall; 1925–1926) for the College of William and Mary, and the Marion Hotel in Ocala, Florida (1926–1927), which is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ferguson was president of the Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1927 and 1928. He chaired the Norfolk Board of Zoning Appeals and was a member of the advisory committee of architects for the restoration of the colonial capital in Williamsburg. Beginning in 1935, he headed the city's planning division for construction projects of the federal Public Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration. Ferguson also served as board member of the Norfolk Academy and of the Norfolk public library. Finlay Forbes Ferguson died of a heart attack at his home in Norfolk early in the morning of 7 October 1936. He was buried in the city's Elmwood Cemetery.

Sources Consulted:
Brief biographies in Henry F. Withey and Elsie Rathburn Withey, Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased) (1970), 207 (with incorrect first name Finley) and in Rogers Dey Whichard, History of Lower Tidewater Virginia (1959), 3:47 (with erroneous 18 Nov. 1875 birth date); Birth Register, Norfolk City and Marriage Register, Norfolk City, both in Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; self-reported birth date in World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards (1917–1918), Record Group 163, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Papers of Finlay Forbes Ferguson, Perry Library, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.; Peebles and Ferguson architectural drawings for Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Va., 1932, Accession 36567, and some Ferguson architectural drawings in Norfolk Building Inspection Office, Architectural Drawings and Plans, 1898–1980, Accession 32256, both Library of Virginia; major Virginia commissions catalogued in John E. Wells and Robert E. Dalton, eds., The Virginia Architects, 1835–1955: A Biographical Dictionary (1997), 45, 140–143, 348–350; Charles E. Brownell et al., The Making of Virginia Architecture (1992), 382, 424; Death Certificate, Norfolk City; obituaries in Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch, 7 (portrait), 8 Oct. 1936, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 8 Oct. 1936, and American Architect and Architecture, 149 (Nov. 1936): 124; editorial tributes in Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch, and Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, both 8 Oct. 1936.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Brittany N. Heyward.

How to cite this page:
Brittany N. Heyward,"Finlay Forbes Ferguson (1875–1936)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2015 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Ferguson_Finlay_Forbes, accessed [today's date]).

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