What is 35/15? Read the Introduction first.
(Note: All 1935 photographs are on the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library Omeka site. They are viewable by clicking the link provided, scrolling to the bottom of the page, then clicking the image.)
We have seen all of these pretty houses, but what is a house without equally enchanting grounds? To many, Colonial Williamsburg would not be the same without its gardens. Let's stroll through some of these and see the finer, refined side of life.
Garden of the Carter-Saunders / Robert Carter House
|Carter House Dairy Yard, July 10, 2015, 12:33pm|
|Unobstructed view of the Dairy, 2015|
This garden was on the right side of the Robert Carter House backyard. Where did it go? This garden is no more. After some later archaeology was done, it was discovered that the foundations of a dairy were sitting in the middle of the garden. The garden was removed between 1947 and 1960. Simpler gardens were left throughout the backyard. Except for a few lines of hedges, those have now been replaced by grass.
Does anything remain? The brick path to the dairy could be the right hand garden path. Anything for certain? Yes....
|Carter Necessary, 2015|
The Carter-Saunders House is an original building. In 1968, it was renamed to the Robert Carter House, due to Roberts Saunders owning the house starting in 1801, after the 18th century. For years, the house was a private residence. Now, it sits empty.
"This house was owned about the middle of the 18th Century by John Coke, a silversmith, goldsmith and jeweler. Its garden served as a landmark in the court records for York County. Soon after the Revolution, the house came into the possession of the Garrett family, and continued in their ownership until recent years. It has been restored."
- Architectural Record, December 1935
|Coke-Garrett House, July 28, 2015, 11:28am|
This garden has also disappeared. All that remains of this view is the tree on the right, the house, and one boxwood bush. That's all folks.
The two-story portion of the house no longer has a porch.
This amalgamation building of 18th and 19th century wings has always been a private residence.
|"The Coke-Garrett House" 1935|
[Picture not found on Rockefeller Omeka]
|Side view of Coke-Garrett, July 28, 2015, 11:32am|
The one last remaining boxwood in the front yard is where F.S. Lincoln stood in 1935. Of course.
The fence is gone, the broken bird bottle is gone, the big flowering bush is gone. No plants touch the foundations.
|Coke-Garrett Outbuilding, August 9, 2015, 11:11am|
Is it just me, but if you look at the path in relation to the building, there looks like there is less space between them in 2015 compared to 1935. Did something move here?
The flowers are gone, but there is a Crepe Myrtle right next to it. No more boxwood or white fence, but plenty of grass and trees.
|Coke-Garrett Side Yard, August 9, 2015, 11:15am|
Well, here it isn't.
To the left, you can see the same outbuilding in the original picture, also the same one in the previous picture above. One of the brick trails has remained. Everything else is gone. The Coke-Garret property has lost backyard space. Where I was standing is a horse pasture (It was not in use when I took this picture. NEVER go into a pen with animals in it, unless you are trained and own the animals yourself/have permission from the owner).
There is a new, smaller garden, now located behind the house instead of off to the side.
|Custis Garden, 1935|
[Picture not found on Rockefeller Omeka]
|Custis Garden, August 23, 2015, 4:33pm|
I'm ending on a good note.
For some reason, this garden has remained. This garden is right on Duke of Gloucester Street, across from the Church, so it is highly visible. It gets replanted every flowering season.
The tree in the top left and the boxwood by the fence have been uprooted, while the Galt House has moved. The tent structure that can be seen is used as the Colonial Gardens' Shop.
So, this shot was more trouble than I thought it would be. I originally thought F.S. Lincoln shot this out of the Custis Tenement's second floor window. The Custis Tenement is open on Sunday's, rented out by Bruton Parish Church as a reception/coffee area between services. After asking permission, I was able to get up to the window. The window did not line up with the correct viewing angle. So, the next step was to procure a ladder, which worked, and the shot was taken, voila!
Then, going through old research material, I come across this gem from 1940:
|John Custis Tenement in|
"Williamsburg Today & Yesterday," 1940
The John Custis Tenement had a porch. Which no longer exists. F.S. Lincoln wanted an aerial photo of this garden so bad, that he climbed out the window, onto the porch roof. The things one will do for a photo.
|Custis Tenement, sans porch|
I'd probably have done the same thing.
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So, what is the story with all these missing gardens?
In the 1920's Arthur Shurcliff was hired as Colonial Williamsburg's first Landscape Architect. Like the interiors of buildings, the gardens were also of the Colonial Revival style. This came to be a result of many different factors. To his credit, Shurcliff did the best with what he could. He started out by researching remaining old Virginia gardens, and compiled it all together in a study called "Southern Places."
He and his assistants did some 'archaeology,' an area they were not trained in. Some of it paid off in dividends, especially at the Governor's Palace, but not many other garden locations had any evidence they could find.
"[Shurcliff] had to rely, of course, more on his imagination.. and his imagination had to be kept in control by his knowledge of what might have been there. So he had a hard job and he did it beautifully" (Cushing, quote by Shaw [CW Architect]).
Shurcliff did have some concerns he might have been over-the-top, but there was a push from JDR Jr for pristine, perfect ornamental gardens. Shurcliff was also stubborn and sometimes did intentionally go over-the-top in places where there might not be any evidence saying for or against a garden.
Shurcliff's successors continued the trend of beautiful gardens, creating a picturesque landscape, but untrue to gardens in 18th century Williamsburg. In the 1960's and 1970's, there was a push for more authenticity in the natural environment. Gardens became less pristine. Some gardens slowly faded away entirely until all that was left were brick paths.
Currently, Williamsburg is in a halfway place, where some gardens are authentic representations, while others are still reflecting the Colonial Revival period. It's a process.
Gardens have come and gone. Williamsburg will still be widely known for its beauty in whatever style it portrays.
If you want to know more about Arthur A. Shurcliff and the history of Colonial Williamsburg gardens, most of my information came from the 2014 book "Arthur A. Shurcliff: Design, Preservation, and the Creation of the Colonial Williamsburg Landscape," by Elizabeth Hope Cushing. It is a FABULOUS read if you are interested in how the Colonial Williamsburg gardens came about.
Thanks to Mr. Anthony Carter, who lent me the ladder for the Custis Garden shoot. And, of course, we passed two other ladders on our way there.
Sources Used:"The Restoration of Colonial Williamsburg" Architectural Record, December 1935
"Behold Williamsburg" Book by Samuel Chamberlin, 1947
"The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg," Book by M. Kent Brinkley and Gordon W. Chappell, January 1, 1996
"Two Historic Area Houses Receive New Names," CW News, November 12, 1968
"Williamsburg Today & Yesterday," Book by Grace Norton Rosé, Drawings by Jack Manley Rosé, 1940
"Arthur A. Shurcliff: Design, Preservation, and the Creation of the Colonial Williamsburg Landscape," Book by Elizabeth Hope Cushing, 2014
View the whole 35/15 Project:
Part 1 - College of William and Mary
Part 2 - Merchants Square
Part 3 - Buildings that Move
Part 4 - Market Square
Part 5 - Ludwell-Paradise
Part 6 - Queen Street to Botetourt Street
Part 7 - Raleigh Tavern
Part 8 - Paints
Part 9 - Botetourt Street to the Capitol Area
Part 10 - Capitol
Part 11 - No Longer Here
Part 12 - Francis and Nicholson Streets
Part 13 - Garden Edition (You are currently viewing this one)
Part 14 - The Governor's Palace Gardens
Part 15 - Inside the Governor's Palace
Bonus 35/15 Posts:
35/15: A Dessert Order
35/15: Life in Williamsburg in 1935
35/15: Governor's Palace Wallpaper
35/15: Governor's Palace Wallpaper II