century association biographical archive

Earliest Members of the Century Association

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Charles Downing Lay

Landscape Architect

Centurion, 1912–1956

Born 3 September 1877 in Newburgh, New York

Died 15 February 1956 in Stratford, Connecticut

Buried Putney - Oronoque Cemetery, Stratford, Connecticut

Proposed by Edward Cary and Samuel Parsons

Elected 3 February 1912 at age thirty-four

Archivist’s Note: Son of Oliver I. Lay; nephew of George C. Lay; father of Oliver Ingraham Lay. An inventory of the Century’s art collection that he compiled with the club librarian, Theodore Bolton, was published in 1943 and may be viewed at Works of Art, Silver, and Furniture Belonging to the Century Association .

Proposer of:

Century Memorial

Charley Lay graduated from the Columbia School of Architecture in 1900, and in 1902 from the Harvard School of Landscape Architecture. He was a landscape architect all his life, but he was also a remarkably good painter and etcher. He knew all about gardens, and wrote a book about them; and he laid out public parks and private estates, and made plans for the United States Housing Corporation and for the City of New York. He also founded, and for many years edited, the magazine Landscape Architecture.

Charley had an extremely good time doing all this. He was always full of ideas, and exceedingly practical. He had a studio out at Stratford, Connecticut, part of which he had built with his own hands. He never had much money and never needed much. He liked to grow things, and to see what he could do with growing plants; and he was very courageous about cutting down trees when they began to hide the view or darken the house. He had an easy-going manner, but he had a good, hard head, and knew very well what he was doing.

He organized the Housatonic Valley Association to try to preserve the natural beauty of the river valley, and he was tireless in working at it. In the Century he served on various committees, including the Board of Management. At one time he got together a “wine committee,” of which the members self-sacrificingly spent a winter drinking wines so as to select the most appropriate for our cellar.

Charley was good company and very amusing—tolerant, bland, and entirely (and rather unexpectedly) aware of the ways of the world.

George W. Martin
1957 Century Association Yearbook