Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archives Specialist in the Electronics Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.
If you live in the National Capital Region, you may be familiar with the scene depicted above, the Cherry Trees that ring the Tidal Basin. The “peak blossom” period has just passed and there may still be people stuck in traffic. With the advent of Spring, there are a number of garden related properties found in the Records of the National Register of Historic Places (National Archives Identifier 20812721), including East and West Potomac Parks (National Archives Identifier 117692108), for which the “uses of Potomac Park as a recreational facility and its many visitor attractions constitute its significance and uniqueness as an urban park area. Its size, 723.86 acres, allows for a wide variety of activities and special events in a city that not only has a large population but also attracts millions of tourists yearly. With the exception of war time infringements on some areas of the park, Potomac Park has fulfilled its designers intent “to be…used as a park for the recreation and pleasure of the people.” Some of the recreational facilities are large open playing fields which are used for everything from baseball and rugby to kite flying, a children’s playground, and a system of walkways and roadways which are used as bicycling and jogging trails as well as a means for visitors to sightsee at a leisurely pace. There are also several operating concessions including boat rides on the Tidal Basin, tennis courts, golf links, and a swimming pool.”
“Potomac Park also lends itself to many special event activities, the most famous being the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. This festival has been held every year since and began as a commemoration of the planting of the first Cherry Trees. The festival is focused in West Potomac Park around the Tidal Basin and is held early in the Spring. The Park has also been the scene of activities such as civil-rights and anti-war demonstrations and has even hosted several weddings. The annual President’s Cup Regatta is held on the Potomac and viewed yearly from East Potomac Park.”
In Pennsylvania, spring will be in bloom at Longwood Gardens, and the “Longwood Gardens district (National Archives Identifier 71995742), comprising 1030 acres in Chester County, includes most notably the Pierce House and Arboretum, Longwood Meeting, the Red Lion Inn, and the Conservatory and Fountains built by Pierre S. DuPont . . . The Conservatory and outdoor Fountains were planned and built by Pierre S. DuPont, with the help of his construction division and an electrician, R.P. Brewer, between 1919 and 1921. The Conservatory includes 300,000 square feet under glass of various trees and floral displays a lounge and ballroom. The Fountains are electrically illuminated and the grounds also include various water gardens and an outdoor theatre capable of seating 2000 people . . . These beautiful and impressive gardens are considered one of the country’s finest private horticultural collections.”
Within the city of Boston, a popular “garden spot” is the Boston Common and Public Garden (National Archives Identifier 63797062), which “comprise 74 acres of open space in the heart of the city. The boundaries of the combined Common and Garden are Beacon Street on the north, Park and Tremont Streets on the east, Boylston Street on the south, and Arlington Street on the west. Charles Street separates the 50-acre Common from the 24-acre Public Garden. When the Common was established in 1634, it stood at the edge of town. Beyond the present location of Charles Street were tidal marshlands, on which the Public Garden was created two centuries later.”
“The principal feature of the Public Garden is a free-form pond, crossed near the middle by an iron footbridge and plied in summer by pedal-powered swan boats. Because Of the botanical and horticultural origins of the Public Garden, plantings are more important in the Garden than on the Common and are more informally and naturalistically arranged. Amid the Public Garden landscape are a number of monuments, particularly statues. The most prominent is an equestrian statue of George Washington, located at the Arlington Street entrance to the Garden opposite the Commonwealth Avenue mall.”
Outside of Charleston, South Carolina on the Ashley River, is the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (National Archives Identifier 118997379), “which consists of 390 of the original 1 ,872 acres, has a long heritage that dates back as far as 1672 when Morris Mathews, one of the first settlers to arrive in the province, received a warrant for 750 acres of land which eventually became part of the Drayton estate and Magnolia Gardens. Located just outside of Charleston, a city which attracts many visitors because of its historical importance. Magnolia Gardens plays an important role in the continued success of the area’s tourism. As the only private wild fowl sanctuary in the Charleston County area, the gardens are significant in helping protect the wildlife in this area.”
“It is also significant that the Reverend John G. Drayton planted many of the first camellias in South Carolina and through hybridization developed numerous new varieties. Magnolia Gardens is the only private wild fowl sanctuary in the Charleston County area. This sanctuary also provides refuge for alligators and other freshwater animals. The gardens created by the Reverend John G. Drayton are spectacular and their beauty is a constant reminder of his arduous work and dedication.”
In Mobile County, Alabama, “the Bellingrath estate comprises over 1,000 acres of land of which sixty-five are cultivated and landscaped. It is located on the west bank of Fowl River in southeast Mobile County near the small town of Theodore, Alabama. The garden was planned by its creators, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bellingrath, as a showplace for an extensive variety of plants, shrubs, trees and flowers native to Mobile and similar climates. Found in the garden are over 250,000 azalea bushes, representing every species known, live oaks. Southern pines, and a wide variety of roses, magnolias, jasmine, wisteria, camellia, mountain laurel, oleander, crepe myrtle, gardenia and dogwood. Flowers vary according to the season.”
“Toward the end of the main walk from the entrance gate, the visitor breaks free of the surrounding hedge to a stunning vista of the great lawn with the house dramatically posed at the opposite end. The approach from the opposite direction (on the north) leads through meandering walks to an impressive view of the house across Mirror Lake. These sections of Bellingrath Gardens were inspired by the English country park which seeks a naturalistic feeling by contrasts of thick growth with open vistas and seemingly random plantings. Most of the plants along the walk are seasonal sun flowers; bulbs in the Spring, chrysanthemums in Fall, poinsettia in Winter and salvia in the Summer.”
“Bellingrath Gardens is an excellent example of a large estate garden planned in the late 1920’s and is one of the finest of the Southern estate gardens of any period. It is widely accepted as having the most spectacular spring display of any garden in the southeast and is noted for the wide variety of azaleas. Planned as the private country garden of Walter D. Bellingrath, who made a fortune in bottling Coca-Cola during the first decades of the 20th century, it reflects the ideas of the “Gardenesque Movement” of the late 19th century with the characteristic vignettes of Italian and French formal gardens within an overall romantic English garden. The Gardens are the major landscape work of George B. Rogers, a prominent Mobile architect.”
Not far downtown DC is Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (National Archives Identifier 117692245), “located in marshland on the east shore of the Anacostia River of Washington, D.C. The gardens are composed of a series of irregularly sized and shaped ponds, formed by diking parts of the Anacostia River flood plain, a wetland habitat of swamp marshes. In all, about 75 varieties of lily are on display at the gardens. In mid- June the hardy, day-blooming lilies are at their peak; in July and August, the night-blooming tropical water lilies open. Among a number of unusual exotic water lilies is the giant water platter Victoria Cruzlana, with Immense leaves, up to 6′ in diameter, capable of floating a small child. Two ancient lotus plants were germinated at the Aquatic Gardens in 1951. The seeds were unearthed in an ancient lakebed near P’u-lan-tien, Manchuria, by a Japanese Botanist in the 1920’s. Estimates on the age of the seeds have varied widely; Carbon-14 tests, and geological and historical evidence indicate that the seeds in this deposit germinated at about 1,900 years. The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens also house 40 other species of pond and marginal plants, including poppy, bamboo, water-hyacinth and a number of native trees. The gardens also grow swamp-marsh plants such as wild rice, cattail, loosestrife and cardinal flower.”
“Although Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are locally important today as a part of Washington’s Park System its greater significance lies in its contribution to the botanical study and development of water plants and gardens under the direction of its founder, W. B. Shaw and his daughter, L. Helen Fowler, it continues today as a noted water garden under the National Park Service . . . In 1924 Mrs. Fowler was persuaded to permit local residents to attempt to have the ponds brought under public ownership; among their most enthusiastic supporters was Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, who along with President and Mrs. Wilson, was a frequent visitor to the gardens.”
Enjoy Spring and get out there and be sure to take time to smell the roses. Make sure that you can see the forest for the trees!
This post is part of an ongoing series featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.