Stanley Abbott, a young-faced Cornell graduate from New England, took on the design of the Blue Ridge Parkway while still in his 20s, hired as the parkway’s acting superintendent and first resident landscape architect in 1936.
Design runs in the blood, perhaps. Stanley Abbott, a young-faced Cornell graduate from New England, took on the design of the Blue Ridge Parkway while still in his 20s, hired as the parkway’s acting superintendent and first resident landscape architect in 1936. He would go on to a long career in the national park service and beyond.
More than 70 years later, his son Carlton Abbott continues working in the field of architecture and landscape architecture as president of the Virginia-based firm Carlton Abbott and Partners.
Even before Stanley, design and drawing was in the family. Asked what lessons he learned as a child of Stanley Abbott, and Carlton talks about being a grandchild of Will Hunt Schanck, his mother’s father, who was also an architect.
“He lived with us in Salem [Va., where the family lived while Stanley worked on the parkway]. I remember when I was 12 years old he was teaching me to draw,” says Carlton. “He was teaching me how to draw chairs and shoes and things that required you to think about three-dimensional space.”
His grandmother Mary Waters was a prominent New York illustrator who studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Cooper Union School of Art, and his grandfather on Stanley’s side was a Brooklyn carpenter from Newfoundland who started his own construction company, and made sure his men were paid through the Great Depression.
“Our house was always full of designers,” Carlton remembers. “The parkway people would come at night – my father had a spaghetti recipe they all loved.” And these designers would help him with his Lionel train set in the basement, making “fences out of toothpicks and matchsticks” – doing the same work in miniature, Carlton points out, as they were doing in real time and space, up in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.
Carlton came back to his father’s basement – at that point, in Williamsburg, Va. – after school and a year working in a 100-person drafting room in Washington, D.C. They worked together for around 10 years before Stanley died of a stroke in 1975. “I cried for three weeks after he died,” says Carlton. “It was awfully hard.”
The work of those early visionaries, including Stanley Abbott, was unique and perhaps never to be repeated in today’s political and bureaucratic reality. Carlton remembers a day later in life, watching his father look out the window and muse, “Carlton, you know there’s never going to be another Blue Ridge Parkway.”
While the parkway may never be imitated, it does continue to evolve, and Stanley Abbott’s legacy – both architectural and genetic – continues to be part of it. Among Carlton’s firm’s major projects is the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters at Hemphill Knob, outside Asheville, an environmentally green building at the edge of the road, “the beautiful ribbon” his father envisioned and brought into being.