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Lost Gardens of Worcester County  

Information and documentation on outstanding gardens of the past found in Central Massachusetts
Last Updated: Apr 10, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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Who we are

Lost Gardens of Worcester County (LGWC) is a project to identify and document the outstanding gardens of the past in Central Massachusetts. We have three organizational partners, Tower Hill Botanic Garden LibraryPreservation Worcester, and the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter, DAR, of Worcester, Massachusetts, but primarily we are a small but dedicated group of researchers interested in gardens and garden history. Participants include: Kathy Bell, Susan Ceccacci, Linda Hart, Merry Morgan Hill, Brenda Morris, Bonnie O'Brien, Jane Peck, and John Trexler.


    An Overview

    Read below for a general introduction to Lost Gardens:

    Finding Lost Gardens (first appeared in Tower Hill Botanic Garden's member publication, Grow with Us, Spring 2014 )

    Knollwood, Iristhorpe, Hawthorne Hill, Juniper Hall: all distinctive names that harken back to a time when grand homes and gardens didn't need street names and numbers for identification.  Some of these homes and gardens are well known and well documented, others less so.  But all of them, and dozens more, have been the focus of a project called Lost Gardens of Worcester County.....[click on link below to keep reading]  

    A portion of the corn stalk fence.


    New Resources of Note

    We recently learned that the Fletcher Steele Archives at SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry are now available online. It's a rich resource of the garden designers' work and of particular interest to us as we include 2 of his gardens in our project (the Stoddard Garden and the John Woodman Higgins Garden, both in Worcester). Librarians at SUNY's Moon Library in Syracuse, NY have helpfully provided resources for us in the past and we're happy now that much more will be easily accessible.

    A few other new items we're adding to our libguides include the first 2 volumes of Thomas Allen's The Pines Record, diaries of the his summer home and garden in Princeton, MA beginning in 1896. Along with delightful details of day to day family life at his magnificent estate near Mt. Wachusett are detailed records of the garden along with daily temperature, barometric pressure and weather conditions. We're so grateful to Allen descendant Anna Lee Frohlich for this and so many other important treasures on the Allen Estate.

    We're also busy adding images from the Tower Hill Library Collections to the Stoddard and Gage Garden libguides, including some from our old Worcester County Horticultural Society exhibitions. Check back soon to see some amazing photographs!


    Why 'Lost Gardens'?

    Why are we interested in old gardens?  Very simply, Central Massachusetts has a rich legacy of horticulture and a number of noteworthy 19th and early 20th century private gardens -- but many are forgotten and not adequately represented in garden history literature. We want to change that. Our goal is to identify the outstanding gardens, research them, create an online repository to preserve the documentation, and ultimately contribute what we collect to the Archives of American Gardens. 

    There are no lack of references to historic gardens in New England in gardening and landscape literature.  Yet, gardens in and around Worcester are not always included in spite of their significance.The New England Garden History Society Journal, published between 1991 and 2003 does not include any of the 40 gardens we've identified. Other local references may mention a particular gardener or garden, but not in detail. One exception is Peggy Erskine's Heart of the Commonwealth, a useful reference on Worcester's people, places and history.  Also important is native daughter and author Alice Morse Earle who frequently praises local gardens both large and small in her classic book, Old Time Gardens.  She credits her parents and neighbors for her "childhood spent in a garden" and page after page details the wonderful gardens of her Worcester childhood along with more famous ones around the world, e.g., 

    "...I remember Mr. [George] Bancroft's [garden] well; the Tea Roses were especially beautiful.  Mr. Bancroft's Rose Garden in its earlier days had no rivals in America."  
    Part of the fun of Lost Gardens is uncovering great old sources. "Old Worcester Gardens", a lecture presented before the Worcester Historical Society in 1933 by Albert Farnsworth is a good example. He waxes nostalgic about Worcester's 'Golden Age' (1830-1860) when "everybody had a garden."  He lists flowers grown by specific gardens, who had greenhouses, and who won various horticultural competitions. Fortunately, many local historical societies and public libraries have images and material about some of the gardens of interest. They, along with descendants, research institutions (e.g. the American Antiquarian Society, Historic New England, the Worcester Historical Museum, New England Historical Genealogical Society, and archives and collections of several local colleges and universities) and key online resources, have provided worthwhile material.

    Sid Callahan, 1923-2017

    We are sorry to report the recent death of one of our founders, Mary (Sid) Callahan. I first met Sid when she came to the Tower Hill Library to research Worcester Garden Club co-founders Frances Clary Morse and Gertrude Whittall. Her interest was infectious and just happened to coincide with descendants of the Morse family sharing artwork painted by Frances and her sister, Alice Morse, as teenagers. So began discussions of the many wonderful gardens in and around Worcester, and because Sid was a woman of action, the start of a project to document those gardens. None of what we've done would have happened without Sid, and there's no way it would have been nearly as much fun.


    Judy McCann, 1937-2016

    Judy McCann was one of the instigators of Lost Gardens and brought a characteristc enthusiam and boundless energy to the project. Her knowledge of so many of the gardens we decided to investigate, and her interest in tracking down information from a variety of sources was crucial to our early success. Judy also played an integral role in planning and organizing our lecture series. Judy's death on March 31st is a huge loss to so many and we extend our deepest condolences to her family. As Sid Callahan first observed, our focus is 'lost gardens' but the reality is we've found friends....Judy is a friend we'll miss always.



    The following gardens are actively under investigation.  Do you have information on any of them? Are you a relative of a former owner or gardener? If so, please be in touch!

    Bolton: Misty Meadows; Boylston: Barlin Acres; Holden: Appleton Estate; Lancaster: Thayer Estates; Millbury: Asa Waters House; Princeton: Allen Estate;  Shrewsbury: Brewer Estate, Harlow, Haskell/Daniels, Golden Hill, Iristhorpe, Juniper Hall, Knowlton, Sumner; Worcester: Alden and Ayers, Bramble Hill, Cleveland, Colton, Merrifield, Hadwen, Aldus Higgins, John Woodman Higgins, Knollwood, Mariemont, The Oaks, Charles Persons, Salisbury Mansion, Smith House, Stoddard, Woodland-Jeppson.


    Lost Gardens Lectures

    Lost Gardens sponsored a series of lectures in 2014 and 2015 to introduce our group and highlight historic gardens and green spaces in and around Worcester -- and beyond. All were well attended and underscored the interest so many have in this topic. Our thanks to all of the presenters and everyone who attended the lectures!

    Lost Gardens lectures held thus far: 

    Dr. James Welu, The Salisbury Gardens and Greenhouses, April, 2014

    Mr. Jock Herron, Edward Winslow Lincoln and Elm Park, November, 2014

    Mr. John Trexler, Gardens Lost and Found: Hadrain's Villa to Tower Hill, April, 2015

    Mr. William Wallace, Withdrawn from the Bustle of the World: Worcester's First Garden Cemetery, November, 2015.

    Tower Hill Library has dvd recordings of the lectures by Jock Herron and John Trexler and audio recordings of the Salisbury gardens lecture by Dr. Welu and the Rural Cemetery lecture by Bill Wallace.  Contact the library to learn more.

    For more information

    Kathy Bell
    Contact Info
    Tower Hill Library
    Boylston, MA
    Send Email

    Garden Documentation

    We're organizing information for each garden into libguides. Please take a look at our early drafts (and let us know if you have information to add or see any blatant errors!)  Thank you.

    The Allen Estate, Princeton

    Hawthorne Hill, Thayer Estate, Lancaster

    Juniper Hall, Shrewsbury

    The Paine Estate, Worcester 



    Below are some of the print and digital resources we've used:

    Ceccacci, Susan McDaniel (2015).  Living at the City's Green Edge: Bancroft Heights; a Planned Community in Worcester, Masachusetts.  Cambridge: TidePool Press, 2015.

    Earle, Alice Morse (1901).  Old Time Gardens, Newly Set Forth.  N.Y.: Macmillan.

    Erskine, Margaret A. (1981).  Heart of the Commonwealth, Worcester: an Illustrated History. Woodland Hills, CA:  Windsor Publications.

    Favretti, Rudy (1966). Early New England Gardens,1620-1840.  Sturbridge, MA:  Old Sturbridge Village.

    Fletcher Steele Archive. NY: SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

    Forty Immortals of Worcester and its County (1920).  Worcester: Worcester Bank and Trust.

    Kingsley, Elbridge (1895). Picturesque Worcester.  Springfield, Mass.: W.F. Adams.  (3 vol.)

    Nutt, Charles (1919). History of Worcester and its People.  N.Y.: Lewis Historical Pub. Co.  (4 vol.)

    Rice, Franklin P. (1899).  The Worcester of 1898.  Worcester: F.S. Blanchard.

    Some Historic Houses of Worcester (1919).  Worcester:  Worcester Bank and Trust.

    Transactions of the Worcester County Horticultural Society.  Worcester:  The Society, 1840-2006. (October 6, 2015)

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