John G. Lewis, an architect and historian who left a significant imprint on Loudoun during his decades of civic activism, died April 14 in Camano Island, WA, at the age of 82.
He was born in Richmond June 26, 1930, to Charles David Lewis and Louise Elizabeth Gibboney Lewis. After attending Leesburg High School, Lewis entered the U.S. Army. He served in the U.S. Army Airborne Infantry with the 45th Infantry Division from 1952 to 1954 in Korea, where he was awarded a number of medals including the Korean Service Medal with three Bronze Campaign Stars.
On returning to the U.S. he established a practice as a restoration consultant and it was in that capacity that he became involved with Loudoun’s historic resources, many of which he documented and recorded. Those records now are part of the collection in Leesburg’s Thomas Balch Library.
He restored and lived in five historic houses in Loudoun, four of which are listed on the state and national Registers of Historic Places. In 1970, he became a local regional representative for the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, now known as the Department of Historic Resources. He conducted surveys, and measured and documented more than 600 structures in the counties of Loudoun, Clarke, Frederick, Fairfax, Fauquier and Prince William.
In 1972, Lewis chaired a committee to hire an architect for the new county office building to be built in the Leesburg Historic District, which has now been incorporated into the courts complex. He was the first chairman on the Virginia Board of Architectural Review working on both the Historic District Ordinance and the Design Criteria. He spearheaded Scenic River designations for both Catoctin Creek and Goose Creek and was instrumental in creating 10 town and village county historic districts and the 10,000-acre-Goose Creek Historic District—the first rural historic agricultural district in the nation.
Lewis and his family moved to the Shenandoah Valley and he became active in the Winchester-Frederick County Historic Society, continuing his crusade to research and document historic buildings and areas. He purchased his last home to restore from the Revolving Fund of Preservation of Historic Winchester, Inc. He worked on and supervised the restoration and adaptive re-use of several Winchester buildings. His last home was with his daughter and former wife on Camano Island.
He won a number of state and local awards for his work, including being named the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce’s Man of the Year in 1977. He also wrote a number of publications, of which perhaps the best sums up his trademark wit and tart observations, “Ladies, Liquor, & Laughter – John G. Lewis – Mischief of an Architectural Historian – 1930s-70s Loudoun County VA,” written in 2007.
His work in Loudoun was significant in a number of ways, Heidi Siebentritt, senior preservation planner for the county, said. “We are lucky that John Lewis lived in Loudoun and loved the county so much that he spent endless hours documenting its oldest buildings,” she said. “His architectural survey files, lovingly referred to as ‘The Lewis Files’ by all of us who use them daily, formed the very foundation of all of Loudoun’s historic preservation efforts and are the underpinnings of all our national and local historic districts.”
And it was Lewis’ work in helping spearhead the creation of the Catoctin Creek Scenic River designation and the Taylorstown Historic District that proved crucial in thwarting the 1974 efforts of the Fairfax County Water Authority and the U.S. Corps of Engineers to dam the north fork of the Catoctin River from Waterford to Taylorstown to form a reservoir, according to another key player in that fight—Phil Ehrenkranz of Taylorstown.
Because of the establishment of the Goose Creek Historic District, Ehrenkranz said, when the county was considering which streams to nominate for inclusion in the state scenic river program, Goose Creek had a leg up. But Lewis and Ehrenkranz worked to get both rivers included. The county formed its own Scenic River Committee, which Lewis chaired. The Board of Supervisors then adopted a resolution opposing a dam on Catoctin Creek as a matter of policy. Although the State Commission on Outdoor Recreation said it had insufficient money to do the qualifying work on the Catoctin designation, Lewis and Ehrenkranz worked with the Loudoun County Scenic River Committee, with the help of the Piedmont Environmental Council, to get the designation approved.
Lewis’ other big contribution was advising Taylorstown activists how to create a historic district and become listed on state and national registers of historic places. Lewis then told them, “I’ll take it from here.” He completed all the drawings, descriptions and analysis necessary to submit to the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. The district was approved and established in 1976.
“But for John’s efforts,” the effort to oppose the dam proposal would not have been successful, Ehrenkranz said. “He really cared very deeply about the things that were worth preserving in Virginia.”
Lewis was predeceased by his parents and brother Charles “Chuck” David Lewis Jr. He is survived by his ex-wife Lisa Lewis and their only daughter Elisabeth C. Lewis and two grandchildren Elisa S. Lewis and Lloyd B. Lewis.
Memorial services will be held in Winchester and in Loudoun County, at 11 a.m. June 11 at Christ Episcopal Church in Winchester and 11 a.m. June 12 at the Church of Our Savior at Oatlands. A memorial page (john g lewis) may be found at http://johnglewis.virtual-memorials.com/