Longtime historic preservation leader Williamson dies at 82

J. Reid Williamson Jr., who is credited with transforming a small not-for-profit into the nation’s largest statewide preservation organization, has died at 82.

Williamson served as president of Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana (now known as Indiana Landmarks) from 1973 until his retirement in 2005.

reid williamsonJ. Reid Williamson Jr.

He died Sunday at a hospice in Macon, Georgia, according an email from Indiana Landmarks President Marsh Davis.

“With great sadness, I report that our President Emeritus, Reid Williamson, passed away on Sunday after an extended illness,” Davis wrote. “Needless to say, this is a huge personal and professional loss. He was a giant in the field of historic preservation and raised this organization from one focused on a house museum into the largest of its kind in the nation.”

When Williamson took over leadership in 1973, the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana was 13 years old and known for restoring the Morris-Butler House in Indianapolis into a museum. 

Williamson quickly grew the organization by encouraging the creation of dozens of local not-for-profit preservation organizations throughout the state. Today, the group has nine regional offices and ties to 62 formerly-affiliated organizations and 50 local preservation groups in Indiana.

Williamson’s leadership helped revive several historic Indianapolis neighborhoods, including Lockerbie Square and the Old Northside, among others.

He and Historic Landmarks also helped save Orange County's West Baden Springs Hotel by buying it for $250,000 to prevent it from being razed, then persuading late Bloomington health care entrepreneur Bill Cook to spend more than $30 million to renovate the historic 541-room hotel.

Williamson moved after his retirement to Savannah, Georgia, to spend more time with family.

Indiana landmarks recently created the Williamson Prize, an annual honor recognizing outstanding leadership and achievement in historic preservation by an individual.

“In naming our individual award, Indiana Landmarks honors the impactful career of J. Reid Williamson Jr….” Indiana landmarks says on its web site. “A change agent for the organization and the state, Reid Williamson advanced the preservation movement by stressing the importance of local preservation organizations and by using restoration as a tool to revitalize entire neighborhoods and towns.

“Under his leadership, Indiana Landmarks created regional offices to serve the entire state, and grew in membership, staff and endowment.”

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