The Vagabond – Alexander Simpson’s great-nephew


By Danny Crownover

Last year, the Vagabond wrote about Alexander Duncan Simpson, an architect from Scotland who came to Gadsden in 1888. One of the most interesting and lovable of the Gadsden old timers of Gadsden, Simpson was an accomplished architect who for many years he built many of Gadsden well-known buildings.

The Vagabond recently received a message from Simpson’s great-nephew, Robert Kennedy from Boston, Massachusetts. He wrote:

“Mr. Crownover,

“I’ve recently retired from a career as an architect in Boston, having work in nine states and the Middle East. Alec’s daughter, Lolly (actually Annie Laurie Simpson) lived in a home on Turrentine Avenue in Gadsden, divided into apartments. I understood it to have been designed by Alec.  It was here that she raised my mo-ther, Frieda Nan, [who was] not much her junior.  That building remains and is named for Lolly’s husband, James McCrae Crocheron.

“I just came across your June 2020 article on Alexander (Alec) Simpson, and I am thrilled to report that you have done a great service for our family. My mother, Frieda Nan Simpson Kennedy, was raised by Alec and his daughter Lolly after she was orphaned upon the death of her father, Alec’s brother George Simpson of New York City.

“After your wonderful research, you might be interested to know that Alec’s stellar career was equaled by his brother George. Both he and Alec began in Scotland in shipbuilding at young ages.

“My grandfather George, studied architecture in college at the age of 13, specializing in naval architecture. He literally wrote the book on ship design, The Naval Constructor. The book includes the Simpson’s Rules of calculating displacement of irregular hull shapes and all manner of ship design detailing. It is in print to this day and may be Googled.

“George Simpson became head of the Fore River Shipyard design office in Quincy, Mass., outside of Boston. He designed many vessels, including submarines for England, ships for the Argentine Navy and a ship named the S.S. Frieda for his daughter, who was raised in Gadsden.

“During the course of her life, my mother mentioned that she had a ship named after her. She was born Frieda Nan Colson Simpson in Quincy, Mass., in 1911, the second daughter of George Simpson. It had to have been a rough time for him, as he lost his wife in the birth of Frieda Nan.

“Simpson went on to establish a Naval Architecture office in New York, later dying suddenly requiring his daughters to be relocated to Gadsden. His wife Maude had died in the birth of my mother, Frieda Nan in 1911.

“Frieda Nan later married art professor J. William Kennedy, who had come to Gadsden to paint the portraits of Sam Bernie Pollack, who happened to live across the street from Alec’s daughter Lolly and Frieda Nan.  Kennedy took her back to Illinois, where he was a professor at a university.

“Mom visited family in Gadsden and had a summer home on Cape Cod. She retired to Clearwater, Florida. I am their son, and a blood relative to Alec. In 1959 during a family visit to Gadsden, I was surprised to open a photo album and find a large photo of myself! It was labeled ‘Alec, age 21.’  Yikes!

“You now have now documented the life my Great Uncle Alexander, filling in large gaps of my understanding of him and how our family is tied to Gadsden.  Thank you so much!”

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