Born in Millbrook, Michigan, on October 25, 1901, the son of teachers, Harrington received a B.S. degree in architecture from the University of Michigan in 1924. For his senior architecture project in 1923, he made scale drawings of several Spanish mission churches in New Mexico, including Gran Quivira, where he met Edgar Hewett and Anna Shepard. While working in New Mexico at non-architecture jobs over the next few years, he met several archaeologists.
Eventually Harrington found work with an architectural firm in South Bend, Indiana, but the firm dissolved with the Great Depression. Inspired by his experiences in New Mexico, Pinky enrolled in the University of Chicago's graduate school in 1932 to study anthropology under the tutelage of Fay-Cooper Cole and Robert Redfield. In 1936, he had just passed his doctoral exams when the National Park Service, seeking someone with a background in both archaeology and architecture, offered Harrington a job to direct excavations at the site of 17th-century Jamestown in Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia. Although dubious about working for the government--and at a site only 300 years old--Pinky accepted the job. He never wrote a dissertation to complete a doctorate.
Virginia Hall Sutton, a classmate of Pinky's at University of Chicago, became the Park Service's first female ranger in 1937 when she was employed as a ranger historian at Jamestown. She married Pinky the following year. With her strong background in history and archaeology, Virginia became an essential member of the Harrington team--as an active collaborator or as an equally valuable behind-the-scenes consultant.
In 1942, when World War II brought the Jamestown excavations to a halt, Harrington became superintendent of Colonial Park, a position he held until 1946 when he was promoted to regional archaeologist for the Park Service's southeast region, in Richmond. From 1954 until his retirement in 1965, he was regional chief of interpretation.
Harrington's significant contributions to historical archaeology are legion. In addition to his work at Jamestown, some of his major excavations were at Fort Raleigh in North Carolina; George Washington's Fort Necessity of 1754 in Pennsylvania; Fort Frederica National Monument, Georgia; Arkansas Post; Appomattox Courthouse; Constitution Island at the U. S. Military Academy, West Point; and several 19th-century Mormon structures at Nauvoo, Illinois.
Until well after World War II, archaeology in North America was primarily concerned with Native American cultures. But recognizing that archaeological methods could also be effectively adapted to studying recent Euroamerican sites, Harrington became an early outspoken advocate of historical archaeology as a legitimate subdiscipline. He expressed his advocacy eloquently in several papers, most notably "Historic Site Archaeology in the United States" (1952, in Archaeology of Eastern United States, edited by J. B. Griffin, pp. 335-344) and "Archaeology as an Auxiliary Science to American History" [1955, American Anthropologist, 57(6, pt. 1):1121-1130]. These and other papers that Harrington published in the 1950s and 1960s were a major stimulus in convincing the archaeological community of the important gains to be made by the study of historic sites. His booklet, Archaeology and the Historical Society (1965, American Association for State and Local History) informed historians how archaeology could augment historical research.
As archaeological resource management became more integral to the historic preservation movement in the 1960s and 1970s, there was initial resistance among archaeologists to spend the limited funds available for field studies at Euroamerican sites--especially those dating as late as the 19th and 20th centuries--rather than on Native American sites. The groundwork laid by Harrington and others attracted more converts and ultimately led to the current policy of including both prehistoric and historic sites in cultural resource management programs.
Harrington was scrupulous about making all of his field data and interpretations available to other researchers in either published or file reports. His keen interest in material culture was disseminated in a number of published papers [e.g., "17th-Century Brickmaking and Tilemaking at Jamestown, Virginia" 1950, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 58(1):16-37, and "The Manufacture and Use of Bricks at the Raleigh Settlement on Roanoke Island" 1967, The North Carolina Historical Review 44(1):1-17].
Having observed that the holes in colonial clay pipe-stem fragments decreased gradually in diameter through time, he published a statistical study, "Dating Stem Fragments of 17th- and 18th-Century Clay Tobacco Pipes" [1954, Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia 9(1):10-14] which established an accurate dating technique that has been widely used ever since.
Those who knew Pinky Harrington will treasure his memory; others missed knowing a singular gentleman, scholar, and judge of fine single-malt Scotch whiskey.
Edward B. Jelks is professor emeritus at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.