William Sobieski Hildreth (1893-1966), a Charlottesville banker and community leader, was initially a member of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation's Board of Governors and was then elected to the Foundation's Board of Directors and made treasurer in 1943. A year later he was elected secretary in addition to the office of treasurer. In 1950, he was elected vice-president and in 1958 he became president of the Board, a position he held until his retirement in April of 1966. He died at the age of 73 on September 5, 1966.
Born in 1893 in Wheeling, West Virginia, Hildreth was the eldest child of a successful doctor. He grew up in Charles Town and then in Albemarle, and was educated at Sewanee Military Academy and Shenandoah Valley Academy in Winchester. He enrolled briefly at the University of Virginia (the fall session of 1910), and then received his B. S. degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1915. He did graduate work in fruit culture at Ohio State University (1916-17) and also studied at L'Ecole d'Horticulture in France. Following World War I, in which he served as a first lieutenant in the field artillery (1917-19), Hildreth returned to Albemarle and managed the family's orchards for several years. In 1927, he joined Peoples National Bank in Charlottesville as assistant to the president, George R. B. Michie, his father-in-law. He served as president of the bank from 1938 until 1957 when he was named chairman of the board. In 1963, following a merger, the bank became Virginia National Bank and Hildreth was named vice chairman of the board. After his retirement in December of 1963 he continued as a director and member of the bank's executive committee.
Hildreth also served as president of the University of Virginia Alumni Association, the University's Student Aid Foundation, and the Charlottesville Albemarle Chamber of Commerce. He was also a director of the Michie Company, the Cassco Corporation, and Natural Bridge of Virginia, Inc. In 1945, he founded the Jefferson Birthplace Memorial Park Commission, Inc., which reconstructed and opened to the public Jefferson's birthplace at Shadwell. He also served as president of this organization's board of directors.
Hildreth was an active, involved member of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation's Board. His interest extended to nearly all aspects of the operation of Monticello from its financial affairs to the details of the house's restoration. His suggestions for improvement or changes were always specific and detailed. During his tenure at Monticello, the Gift Shop on Mulberry Row was constructed, the house underwent a major structural renovation, a modern heating and air conditioning system was installed, the dome and upper roof were restored, an annual essay contest for the local schools was initiated, the Shadwell property was purchased, Monticello was designated a National Historic Landmark, and visitation to the house went over 300,000.