Local History Collections

Collection ID: 285
Location: LH 395

(Description ID: 595771)

Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center

John D. Skilton, Jr.



Biographical Sketch

Scope and Content



This collection was donated to the Hayes Presidential Center in 2014. It complements material found in the Skilton Family (LH-303) and Skilton-Davis-Heyman Family (GA-45) collections.

Biographical Sketch

John Davis Skilton, Jr. was born February 28, 1909, the youngest child of John D. Skilton, Sr. and Ida Beistel Skilton, in Cheshire, Connecticut. He attended The Peddie School in Highstown, New Jersey (1924-1927) and graduated from The Roxbury School in Cheshire 1929. Skilton went to Yale University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1933 and a Master of Arts degree in 1936. He also studied at the University of Paris through a Carnegie Scholarship, summer 1935, and New York University – Institute of Fine Arts, 1936-1939.

Skilton travelled to Spain with classmates, summer 1929, and then to northern Europe alone or with aunts the summers of 1930, 1932, 1934, and 1935. He worked as a Lecturer at the Art Institute of Chicago, summer 1933, and held a Rockefeller Fellowship, Museum Intern at the Brooklyn Museum, 1935-1936. Other employment in the field of art included New York World’s Fair, Masterpieces of Art Exhibition lecturer, 1939, and the American National Committee of Engraving, 1941. Skilton was hired at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Septmeber 1942 and worked there until his induction into the U.S. Army a year later. While at the National Gallery he was assigned as resident curator at Biltmore, North Carolina January to June 1943.

Skilton was drafted September 1943 and initially sent to a camp near Boston to be evaluated for future assignment. He was sent to Camp Chase, Arkansas for training in the 69th Medical Detachment, Armed Infantry Battalion but eventually received a transfer to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section (‘Monuments Men’). He was stationed in England June 1944 and then France in July, working with the Civil Affairs division. His fluency in French made him a valued driver and interpreter for higher ranking officers and helped in his work assisting displaced French citizens return to their former homes. Upon entering the village of Plougastel-Daoulas near Brest, France he recognized the damaged statue Le Calvaire, moved the fragments to a place of safety, and after the war raised funds for its restoration. For his dedication to Plougsatel, he was later named an honorary citizen and the town square named after him.

Skilton was transferred to Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives March 1945 where he took part in recovering several large deposits of art works, stolen by the Nazis, in places such as Neuschwanstein Castle, Buxheim, and Castle Rothenfels. He was the first to recognize the activities of Task Force Rosenberg. Perhaps Skilton’s greatest contribution to preserving art works was his effort to stabilize the Trepolo ceiling fresco at the heavily damaged Residenz palace in Wurzburg, Germany. Through great effort and personal expense he oversaw the repair of the palace roof before rain could cause further damage. In honor of this effort he was awarded the Verdienst Kreuz, First Class by the West German government after the war.

After the war Skilton returned to the U.S. and worked as an art historian and curator at the Detroit Institute of Art and the Parke-Bernet Gallery in New York City. He and his partner, Ernest Hillman, helped organize and were very active in the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Historical Society. One of their major projects was the restoration of the Harral-Wheeler mansion in Bridgeport. In 1961 Skilton was elected president of the Marcella Sembrich Memorial Association and also served on the Boards of Directors of the Spoleto Festival and Spoleto Festival USA at Charleston, South Carolina.

\hE John D. Skilton, Jr. died January 22, 1992 in Fairfield, Connecticut and is buried in Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Scope and Content

The John D. Skilton, Jr. collection consists primarily of his correspondence with his parents. There are numerous letters to John while he was a student at The Peddie School telling of his parents’ activities. Another, and especially interesting, series of letters include those written by John to his parents describing his Army experiences in boot camp, in France as an interpreter for Civil Affairs, and in Germany working to recover art works stolen by the Nazis.

The collection also contains material dealing with the Skilton family. Some of the files contain newspaper clippings regarding John D. Skilton, Sr.’s career as a minister, his activities as a Mason, and his death. Skilton genealogical material including letters and newspaper articles about other family members is found here.

Finally, there are eight Dictaphone Nuphonic cylinders of unknown origin in the collection.


Ac. #5856

Box 1

Folder 1 Address Book & Miscellaneous

            2 Dogs

            3 Correspondence n.d. 1913-1917

            4 Correspondence 1918-1919

            5 Correspondence 1921

            6 Correspondence 1922

            7 Correspondence 1923

            8 Correspondence Feb. – July 1924

            9 Correspondence n.d. Peddie School years

            10 Correspondence Sept. – Oct. 1924

            11 Correspondence Nov. – Dec. 1924

            12 Correspondence Jan. – March 1925

            13 Correspondence April – May 1925

            14 Correspondence June – Oct. 1925

            15 Correspondence Nov. – Dec. 1925

            16 Correspondence Jan. – Feb. 1926

            17 Correspondence March – April 1926

            18 Correspondence May – Sept. 1926

            19 Correspondence Oct. – Dec. 1926

            20 Correspondence Jan. – March 1927

            21 Correspondence April – June 1927

            22 Diary of European Trip June – Sept. 1929

            23 Correspondence Jun- July 1929

            24 Correspondence Aug. – Oct. 1929

            25 Correspondence March – July 1930

            26 Correspondence Aug. – Dec. 1930

            27 Correspondence 1931

            28 Correspondence June – July 1932

            29 Correspondence Aug. – Sept. 1932

            30 Correspondence 1934

            31 Correspondence n.d. (mid 1930s)

            32 Correspondence 1935

            33 Correspondence 1936

Box 2

Folder 1 Correspondence Jan. – June 1937

            2 Correspondence July – Dec. 1937

            3 Correspondence Jan. – June 1938

            4 Correspondence July – Dec. 1938

            5 Correspondence 1939

            6 Correspondence 1940

            7 Correspondence 1941

            8 Correspondence June – Oct. 1042

            9 Correspondence Nov. – Dec. 1942

            10 Correspondence Jan. March 1943

            11 Correspondence April – June 1943

            12 Correspondence July – Sept. 1943

13 Correspondence Oct. – Dec. 1943

            14 Correspondence Jan. – Feb. 1944

            15 Correspondence March – April 1944

            16 Correspondence May – June 1944

            17 Correspondence July – Aug. 1944

            18 Correspondence Sept. – Oct. 1944

            19 Correspondence Nov. – Dec. 1944

            20 Correspondence Jan. – Feb. 1945

            21 Correspondence March – April 1945

            22 Correspondence May – June 1945

            23 Correspondence July – Aug. 1945

            24 Correspondence Sept. – Oct. 1945

            25 Correspondence 1946

Box 3

Folder 1 John D. Skilton, Sr. Masons – Grand Chaplain 1950

            2 John D. Skilton, Sr. Masons – Grand Lodge 1950

            3 John D. Skilton, Sr. Mason – Miscellaneous

            4 John D. Skilton, Sr. Death

            5 John D. Skilton Miscellaneous

            6 Ida Skilton Death

            7 Ida Skilton Miscellaneous

            8 Catherine Skilton

            9 Alvah Skilton

            10 Skilton Family Genealogy & Photos        

            11 Skilton Family Genealogy

            12 Atwood Family Genealogy

            13 Judd Family Genealogy

            14 Sowers Family Genealogy

            15 Sperry Family Genealogy

            16 Miscellaneous

            The Roxbury Rolling Stone 1929

            The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett

            Story of the Bible by Charles Foster

            Plantation Game Trails by Archibald Rutledge

Styles Francais by Maurice Simmonet

Diocese of Connecticut: Journal, 1946

1933 Account Book – Ida Skilton?

Auction Catalog – Collection of the Late George Steele Skilton, June 12 & 13, 1925

Record Book – Death of John D. Skilton, Sr.

8 Dictaphone Nuphonic cylinders

Box 4

            The Old Gold and Blue – The Peddie School, 1925

            The Old Gold and Blue – The Peddie School, 1926

            The Old Gold and Blue – The Peddie School, 1927

            Yale Banner and Pot Pourri, 1930