Friday, December 3, 2021

Walls at Private Homes & Gardens in Early America

 1742-46 attributed to William Dering, Anne Byrd Carter.  These brick wall fences had balustrades of wood atop the wallBrick & stone walls were usually confined to enclosing the grounds of public buildings & grave-yards in early America. Most private homes & gardens were "well paled in" with fences made of wood. 

Walls around private gardens in the British American colonies before the 18C are even more difficult to find portrayed in contemporary images.

In Maryland, a painting of Holly Hill from about 1730, depicts a walled brick garden attached to the house. Originally a primitive, two-room, 1 1/2-story frame dwelling constructed in 1698, Holly Hill still exists.
Holly Hill with brick wall around its garden about 1730 Maryland Historical Trust

Its owner Samuel Harrison added the 18 ft. section in 1713, and before his death in 1733, he encased the entire structure in brick. This is probably when the garden was walled-in as well. Holly Hill is one of the few extant examples of the medieval transitional style of architecture used in Maryland during the mid-17th century. Its transition from a primitive frame dwelling to a comfortable brick house reflects a pattern repeated in early Tidewater houses.
Holly Hill in Anne Arundel County, Maryland as it exists today

Virginia's Royal Governor William Beverley's (1605-1677) home Green Spring, built in 1649, was nearly 97' long and 25' wide. The house & grounds were named for a spring near the house, which a 1680s visitor described as "so very cold that 'twas dangerous drinking the water thereof in Summer-time." The Governor's wife Lady Frances Berkeley described her home in 1677 as "the finest seat in America & the only tollerable place for a Govenour."

Berkeley was an involved farmer & gardener who raised the Virginia cash crop tobacco, of course, plus fields of cotton, flax, hemp & rice. He planted fruit trees by the thousands. A a contemporary reported seeing "Apricocks, Peaches, Mellcotons (peaches grafted onto quince trees), Quinces, Warden (Winter Pears), and such like fruits." He grew grapes to produce his own wines, as well as vegetables and roses.

Although Green Spring was heavily damaged during Bacon's Rebellion in 1676-7, the restored house stood until the last decade of the 18C, when Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) painted a watercolor of it in 1797. The watercolor depicts brick curvilinear garden walls planned by Philip Ludwell II (1672-1726), & probably in place, when the property was bequeathed to Philip Ludwell III (1716–1776) in 1727. The Ludwells came to own Green Spring, when widow Lady Frances Berkeley married Phillip Ludwell.
Green Spring by Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) in 1797.  The Baroque curved garden walls replaced a straight-line 100' brick garden wall set at a right angle to the house which led down to the amazingly cold spring and which was probably on the property before 1680-83, when the restored brick house was completed.

Ironically, the other remaining Virginia house built before 1700 having a brick garden wall was Bacon's Castle. It was also known as Allen's Brick House and was used as a headquarters for the attack against Berkeley. The house had the earliest known private formal gardens in the British American colonies. The Jacobean house on the James River was built in 1665, by Arthur Allen. The garden was 195' by 360' divided into 6 large beds each 74' wide & between 90-98' long. The west side of the garden was defined by a brick forcing wall.
Bacon's Castle garden in Virginia with brick wall in background. The oldest identified private formal garden in the British American colonies.

It is more difficult to identify private homes with garden walls in early America from paintings & prints, because private clients of artists overwhelmingly chose portraits of themselves & their families over landscapes throughout most of the period. Fortunately, some of the portraits are depicted on the grounds of the subject's house.

In Virginia, Robert Beverley wrote in 1705, when there were a little over 75,000 folks in his colony, "The private buildings are of late very much improved; several Gentlemen of late having built themselves large Brick Houses." With these brick houses, brick garden walls were common.

Advertisements in the Pennsylvaia Gazette give a glimpse of stone & brick walls around Pennsylvania. In 1751, Burlington, New Jersey, a 208 acre plantation sitting on the Delaware River, had two large 2 acre gardens of which one was "walled in with brick, the other fenced in with cedar 7 feet high."

John Bartram skeptical about the thermal contribution of wall wrote on December 3, 1762, describing Charleston, SC, “I can’t find, in our country, that south walls are much protection against our cold, for if we cover so close as to keep out the frost, they are suffocated.”

In Philadelphia in 1766, there was a court dispute over a contract to build a stone wall around a garden in the city. And in the same year, a 170 acre property containing "a good Garden, walled in with Stone" Chester County, about 20 miles from Lancaster, was advertised for sale in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

One of Philadelphia's richest merchants, Samuel Neave (1707-1774) had his house & business at the corner of Second & Spruce Strees. The property, which contained the main house plus a coach house, stable, garden & greenhouse, had 50' on Second Street & 180' on Spruce Street. It wall all enclosed by brick walls.
Detail 1755 Joseph Blackburn (fl 1753-1763). Isaac Winslow & His Family with a brick wall with finials at the gate in background. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In a letter to Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832) written when he was away at school in England, his mother Elizabeth Brook (d. 1761) wrote of Annapolis, in 1756, "This place... is greatly improved, a fine, flourishing orchard wtih a variety of choice fruit, the garden inlarged and a stone wall built around it, 2 fine meadows."

Charles Carrol of Annapolis advertised 12,000 acres within 12 miles of the head of the Patapsco River in Maryland, for sale in 1757. He noted that the property contained "a handsome Garden, inclosed by a Stone Wall."

George Washington, described Mount Vernon, March 27, 1760, describing Mount Vernon, wrote, “Agreed to give Mr. William Triplet, 18 to build the two houses in the Front of my House (plastering them also), & running walls for Pallisades to them from the Great house & from the Great House to the Wash House & Kitchen also.”

Paintings from the early American period depict stone and brick walls in private gardens and grounds, whether real or for affect is difficult to determine. I will try to include only one painting of each type of wall depicted by an artist who used walls in his portraits.
1760 William Williams (1727-1791). Deborah Richmond in front of a sophisticated curved wall. 

The home of George Johnson in Alexandria, Virginia, went up for sale the next year. The ad described a dwelling house "upwards of 100 Feet long...a good Garden; the whole enclosed with Pails, and Brick...defended from the Water by a Stone Wall, to which Wall Boats and other small Vessels may come at a moderate Tide."
c 1763 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Mary Turner (Mrs. Daniel Sargent) in front of a wall.

Also in 1767, a property of 150 acres at Blue Ball, Pennsylvania, was advertised for sale containing a "stone house...a garden, surrounded with a stone wall."

One traditional commercial garden, Gray's Chatsworth Garden, sat just north of the harbor in Baltimore. Owners converted this old, private garden into an updated public pleasure garden with the addition of serpentine pathways meandering around the tree-lined perimeters of the grounds. The heart of the commercial garden, however, remained an elegant eight-bed falling terrace garden laid out in geometric symmetry during the 1760s, which was completely surrounded by a brick wall.
1767 James Claypoole (1743-1814). Ann Galloway (Mrs Joseph Pemberton) sitting at a low wall.

When Philadelphia botanist John Bartram (1699-1777) visited Henry Laurens's (1724-1792) at his town garden in Charleston, South Carolina in 1765, he wrote that Laurens was "making great improvements," and noted that his garden was walled with brick--200 yards long and 150 yards wide.
1771 William Williams (1727-1791). The Wiley Family in front of a tall formal wall. 

The Virginia Gazette placed a sale notice in 1770, "that beautiful seat and plantation on river, in King & Queen county, whereon John Robinson , Esq; late Treasurer, lived... a large falling garden inclosed with a good brick wall." In 1782, the Marquis de Chastellux (1734-1788), describing William Byrd's Westover in Virginia noted that "the walls of the garden and the house were covered with honeysuckle"
1772 William Williams (1727-1791). The William Denning in front of a tall, relatively simple brick wall.
Portrait of William Paca with the brick wall of his garden barely visible in the background in 1772. William Paca with his Annapolis garden & summerhouse in the background. Next to Paca is a bust of Cicero. By Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) Maryland State Art Collection, Annapolis, MD.
Maryland Signer of the Declaration of Independence. After serving in both the 1st & 2nd Continental Congresses, Paca went on to serve as Governor of Maryland for 3 1-year terms. In 1789, George Washington appointed him federal district court judge. 
Archaeological excavations have also proven that the 1760s Annapolis town garden of William Paca (1740-1799) was surrounded by a brick wall. 

A 1776 Pennsylvania Gazette an additional Philadelphia house-for-sale ad mentioned that, "A considerable part of the fence is well laid stone."

Thomas Lee Shippen noted on December 30, 1783, that Westover, seat of William Byrd III, on the James River, “the river is backed up by a wall of four feet high, & about 300 yards in length, & above this wall there is as you may suppose the most enchanting walk in the world.”

In 1787, Fran├žois Jean Marquis de Chastellux, 1780–82, described Westover, seat of William Byrd III, on the James River, “The walls of the garden & the house were covered with honey-suckles.”
1787 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Deborah McClenachan (Mrs. Walter Stewart) in front of a curving sophisticated wall.
1787 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Sarah Chew Elliott (Mrs. John O'Donnell) in front of a curving wall with urns used as finials. 

William Bentley on October 3, 1789, described the Collins & Ingersoll Gardens in Salem, MA, “Capt Collins laid the foundation of his new Sea Wall which makes his garden square at the bottom of Turner’s Lane, on the east side. Capt. S. Ingersoll on Turner’s Estate has added a new picketed fence to his excellent stone wall, which gives a good appearance.”

The Pennsylvania Gazette in February of 1791, offered for sale an "extraordinary tract of land for a Gentleman Farmer...county of Montgomery...two orchards of excellent fruit, and a garden of two acres surrounded with a stone wall and terrace."

In 1796, Timothy Dwight, described Worcester County, MA “In no part of this country are the barns universally so large, & so good; or the inclosures of stone so general, & every where so well formed. These inclosures are composed of stones, merely laid together in the form of a wall, & not compacted with mortar...This relative beauty these enclosures certainly possess: for they are effectual, strong, & durable. Indeed where the stones have a smooth regular face, & are skilfully laid in an exact line, with a true front, the wall independently of this consideration, becomes neat, & agreeable. A farm well surrounded, & divided, by good stone-walls, presents to my mind, irresistibly, the image of tidy, skilful, profitable agriculture; & promises to me within doors, the still more agreeable prospect of plenty & prosperity.”

In Baltimore, Maryland in 1797, fenced gardens divided into quadrants but not terraced & with few other embellishments appeared at 13 Baltimore homes. At least one of these kitchen gardens had a stone wall surrounding its four beds. 

George Washington, described the ha-ha wall enclosing his deer park at Mount Vernon in October 1798, “There are two reasons for doing it in this manner—the one is, to prevent the wall from being too serpentine & crooked (as the black line)—and the second is, that the hill below the wall may be more of a sameness.—otherwise it would descend very suddenly in some places & very gradually in others.—“You will observe that this wall is not to be laid out, as worked by a line—the whole of it is serpentine, which I am particular in mentioning least by the expression in your letter of zig-zag. You had an idea that it was to be laid out by line 20 or 30 feet or yards (as the hill would admit) one way then angling & as far as it would go strait another in the following manner.” 

1800 Felice Corne (1752–1845) Ezekiel Hersey Derby Farm near Salem, Massachusetts. Here is a combination of wooden fences & stone walls.

In 1800, Abigail Adams described the Peacefield, estate of John Adams, Quincy, MA, “the President has authorised me to have a number of Lombardy poplars set out opposite the house near the wall which was new just two years ago. . . he says he will have them extended from the gate. . . to the corner.”

1800 An Over-mantle from the Gardiner Gilman House in Exeter, New Hampshire.  This painting shows a combination of wooden fencing & stone walls.

In 1806, from her home called Riversdale in Maryland near, DC, Rosalie Stier Calvert (1778-1821) wrote to her father in Europe, "Our house comes along rapidly. At the moment we have brick-makers, masons, carpenters, plasterers--we lack only painters to have all the crafts represented, and we expect one tomorrow. The masonry of the wing will be finished this week, but in addition to what has to be done to the house and the porticoes, we also have to build a small house, a smoke house, a dairy, and an orangerie."
"We are also going to build a wall to the north and west of the garden, beginning at the wash-house and going alongside the orchard...We also need a house for the cattle. We won't stop making bricks until we have 170,000. You can see that we don't lack for work, which takes all my time. 

Riversdale is now open as a historic house. While the brick wall is no longer there, archeologists have found evidence of it on the grounds."

As towns developed, brick walls occasionally separated the street front of the house from private rear utility and garden areas.
Wall Separating Public from Private City Spaces in Washington, D.C. in 1817. F Street in the District of Columbia. Baroness Hyde de Neuville.

As the influence of Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) and John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) crossed the Atlantic, high brick walls came into disfavor. The natural landscape designers called for evergreen shrubs or fences which were nearly invisible if at all possible, posts & chains and iron railings were preferred. Repton noted, "It is hardly necessary to say, that the less they are seen the better; and therefore a dark, or as it is called, an invisible the proper colour."

However, English landscape designer Humphrey Repton's (1752–1818) Business Card designed by Thomas Medland ( c.1765 – 1833) depicts Repton's open, "natural" (although well-planned!) landscape design. No fences or walls here.
After 1800, Repton’s work became more formal – he deliberately designed The Monk’s Garden at Ashridge as walled & formal to reflect the former monastic gardens on the site. This is his Rosearium. From "Report concerning the gardens at Ashridge, submitted to the Earl of Bridgewate" Humphry Repton architecture & landscape designs, 1813.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Fences & Walls around Farm & Barn Yards

Livestock Yards

The term barn yard was used in the British American colonies by the 1760s. In 1766 Pennsylvania, a parcel of land was offered for sale with "a fine run running through the barn yard." Barnyards were almost always fenced, but this did not ensure that your animals would be safe.    

In 1771, Pennsylvanian Mordecai Cloud reported that his brown mare was stolen "out of the barnyard of the subscriber, in East Caln township, Chester county." Just a few months later, a black horse was "STOLEN out of the barnyard of the subscriber, living on Bread and Cheese Island, in Mill creek Hundred, New Castle county" Delaware.

Near Savannah, Georgia, in 1774, property was advertised, "choice Tide Land, on which are Two fine high Knolls fit for Buildings and Barn Yard." 

Near 1778 Philadelphia, a soldier was said to have made his escape, "by getting over a fence in the barn yard."

The term farm yard was seldom used until well after the Revolutionary War. It came into popular use after the 1790s publication of John Spurrier's "Compendious System of Husbandry, adapted to the different soils and climates of America; containing the mechanical, chemical and philosophical elements of agriculture; wherein the different soils and manures are analized, shewing their real properties, with their proper applications to each other, and the atmospherical influences; the best method of constructing and managing the farm-yard." John Beale Bordley's publication of "Sketches on Rotations of Crops, and other Rural Matters" also popularized the term.

In the late 1790s, Isaac Weld reported on a house at Lake Charles, near Quebec, "The dwelling house, a neat boarded little mansion painted white, together with offices, were situated on a small eminence; to the right, at the bottom of the slope, stood the barn, the largest in all Canada, with a farm yard exactly in the English style."

Cow Yard

A 1751 advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette described a plantation in Burlington fronting the Delaware River for 3/4 of a mile with 208 acres containing "a Dairey house, coach house, chaise house, a fine stable, a large barn, barrocks, hovels, a well in the cow yard."

"A good cow yard, fenced with stone."

In 1756, the same newspaper noted in New Jersey, "Commodious plantation, well watered and timbered, about four miles from Trenton, on the great road leading to Amwell, containing 236 acres, or thereabouts, of good land, with a good house, and a good cow yardfenced with stone."

Twenty years later, Pennsylvania Gazette land-for-sale in Newgarden, Chester County, Pennsylvania was described as a plantation of "112 acres...a two story square log house, with a cellar under, a well of good water at the door, a barn, with stabling and cow yard."

An 1800 newspaper noted that behind a house for sale in Savannah, Georgia, was "a garden 34 by 45 feet, a cow yard 20 by 15 feet."


The cow yard, pig yard, or barn yard was not just a pen for livestock, it was a hotbed of fertilizer production for the gardens & grounds of most industrious landowners in the colonies & early America.
Joseph Prentis (1754-1809), a judge of the General Court of Virginia, lived in Williamsburg, and wrote in his Monthly Kalender between 1775-1779. It survives as a manuscript at the University of Virginia. He noted in his Kalender, "Dung your Grounds. Such of the Garden as may be vacant should be well manured in October and also well spaded that it may have the advantage of fallow from the sun, snow, and air of the winter season...In December use every oppy of laying Dung on such parts of the Garden as may want it."
18C English Woodcut

In Annapolis, Maryland, during the 1790s, clockmaker & silversmith William Faris planted most of his kitchen garden near his stables. Faris consistantly carted dung from his own stables to his garden, and he employed neighborhood haulers to bring extra cartloads of "tan" to his garden throughout the growing season into the fall.

Hog Yard

The Pennsylvania Gazette recommended creating a hog yard as a means of increasing manure to be used as fertilizer in March of 1791. "Adjoining the stye where your swine are shut up, which should be dry & warm, fence a yard for them to wallow in; 20 or 30 feet square will be large enough for 6 hogs; cover this in the fall or spring with mud...The hogs... will render this mud or earth, if not more than 2 feet deep, an exceeding rich compost in a year's time.

"They will keep it stirring & fermenting with their dung & urine, which will be incorporated with the mud, and thereby their whole strength will be saved; for the mud or earth will prevent the virtues of the dung & urine from being washed in the ground by the heavy rains, or evaporated by the sun and air --- it not only saves them, but makes them stronger, by keeping them in a state of constant fermentation; the fermentation will be increased, and the whole mass will be improved by making this yard the receptacle for the weeds of your garden --- throw into it your soap-suds, brine, and all the greasy slop of the kitchen; you may add potatoe-tops, which should be carefully saved for the purpose when you gather the potatoes; the stubborn corn stalks, which rot slowly in the cow-yard
will soon consume in the hog-yard."
Some 18C Chesapeake farmers dug fenced "dung pits" near their "cow houses" & pig yards to systematically collect future garden fertilizer.

New Yorker John Nicholson wrote about barnyards in The Farmer's Assistant in 1820, "The practice of having a barnyard on a declivity is a bad one, as in this way very much manure is washed away, without essentially benefiting the adjoining grounds. The yard should be level, and lowest in the middle, in order to prevent the escape of much fertilizing liquor, that will otherwise run off from the dung during heavy rains.
"It should be cleared in the Spring of the dung made during Winter; and if the Milch-cows and other cattle are to be kept in it at night, during Summer, much manure may be made in it by carting in rubbish of various mix with the dung of the cattle and absorb their stale.

"The yard should also have a high close fence round it, as well for securing the cattle as for breaking off the winds; and, in order to make the most of the dung, the cattle should be kept constantly in the yard during the season of foddering, and have a well close adjoining to supply them with water."

Monday, November 29, 2021

Walls at Churches & Graveyards in Early America

Church Yard with a brick wall & old Trees in Norfolk, Virginia.

Newspapers often announced the burials of citizens in local church yards. The deceased were usually reported to be interred or deposited in the church yard. The 1732South Carolina Gazettereported,"On Monday last, after a very long Disorder, died Mrs. Mazyck, the Wife of Mr. Isaac Mazyck, Merchant of this Town... she was interr'd in the Church-Yardof this Place, in a very handsome Manner, being attended to her Funeral by most of the chief Merchants, and publick Officers of the Province."

The 1737 Williamsburg Virginia Gazette reported, "Last Monday Night died in this City, after a short Illness, Mr. Charles Chiswell, of Hanover County, aged about 60. He came to Town last Wednesday, in perfect Health, and was taken ill of a Pleurisy and Flux on Friday Night, which was so violent, that it carried him off the Monday Night following; and on Wednesday Night, he was decently interr'd, in our Church yard."  In the colonial period, the deceased often were reported to be buried in the church yard "in a very decent Manner."

When a proud, perhaps even a little arrogant, London stone mason arrived in 1739 Philadelphia, he advertised his work by sending people to the Church yard. "Masons-Work in all its Branches, and with the greatest Speed and Accuracy, is performed by WILLIAM HOLLAND, lately from London; who being truly instructed in that Art, justly assumes the antique Name of the Mason, and owns not that vulgar calling of a Stone-Cutter ... has given the Publick a Specimen of his Performance in a Tomb-Stone now in the Church -Yard of this City."
Walled Church Yard at Ware Church, Gloucester County, Virginia.

The Church yard was a place well-known in most locations and was often used as a point of direction, as when the Charleston newspaper announced in 1732, "AT Dan. Bourget's, Brewer, in old church street, behind the old Church -Yard,is good Stabling, and Entertainment for Horses."For a public sale in 1734,"A Catalogue of all the Particulars, with the Price to each Article, may be seen from Monday morning till all are sold at the Blue House, against the French Church Yard in Charlestown."

Brick walls surrounded many church yards. The 1752 Virginia Gazette announced that an "Addition is to be built on one Side of the Brick Church in Bristol Parish, Prince-George County, 30 by 25 Feet in the Clear, with a Brick Wall round the Church Yard,5 Feet high; the said Work is to be completed in June 1754."

During the same period, wooden fences were being built around other churches. In the summer of 1749, the vestry of Saint Anne's Parish in Annapolis Maryland, put out a contract for "any good Workman, to find Materials, and pale in the Church-Yardat Annapolis, with saw’d Poplar Pales, four Feet and a half in Length, three Inches broad, and one Inch think; saw’d Poplar Rails, 8 feet long and 6 Inches broad on the flat side, three Rails in each Length; the Posts to be of Cedar or Locust, to hew to six inches square at Top, to be 7 feet long and to be set 30 Inches in the Ground; the Posts to be morticed, and Rails tenanted in; the Pales to be nail’d on with Double Tenpenny Nails, three to each Pale." But by 1771, the vestry of Saint Anne's Parish decided to "have the yard secured so as to prevent the cattle from going therein."
Looking Over the Brick Wall at the Burying Yard at Saint Anne's Church in Annapolis, Maryland, which came into use in the 1780s.

Wandering livestock & wildlife interlopers also bothered the gentry in Virginia. Philip Fithian Vickers, teaching at Nomini Hall, Virginia, in 1774, noted that," Mr. Carter observed that he much dislikes the common method of making Burying Yards round Churches, & having it almost open to every Beast." In 1771, the upper church in Saint Margaret's Parish in Caroline County, Virginia, also began walling in their churchyard. However, in New York City in 1749, Peter Kalm reported a church yard without a traditional fence or wall, "Quite a large churchyard surrounds the temple, and about it are planted trees which give it the appearance of an enclosure."

Occasionally, a church yard was the scene of a violent act. Just after Christmas, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported in 1759, that in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, "a young Man, genteelly dressed, shot himself in the Church Yard at Burlington" with a "short Fowling piece loaded with large Duck Shot."
The Moravian Cemetery at Old Salem, North Carolina. The graveyard is surrounded by shady groves.

As political unrest began to stir in the British American colonies, even the church yard became involved in the protests. In 1766 Wilmington, North Carolina,"in the Evening, a great Number of People again assembled, and produced an Effigy of LIBERTY, which they put into a Coffin, and marched in solemn Procession to the Church Yard,a Drum in Mourning beating before them, and the Town Bell, muffled, ringing a doleful Knell at the same Time; --- But before they committed the Body to the Ground, they thought it adviseable to feel its Pulse; and when finding some Remains of Life, they returned back to a Bonfire ready prepared, placed the Effigy before it in a large Two armed Chair, and concluded the Evening with great Rejoicings, on finding that LIBERTY had still an Existence in the COLONIES."

Occasionally, the church yard became a place for recreation & reflection. Dr. Robert Honyman reported in 1775, Boston, Massachusetts, that he "went into a large church yard& viewed the Tombs & grave stones." William Loughton Smith wrote in his journal on May 5, 1791, of visiting Salem, North Carolina. "The church yard is on a hill above the town, surrounded by shady groves." The Moravian cemetery at Salem, God's Acre, has gravestones & burial plots which are exactly the same size and grouped together by marital status & gender - married sisters, single sisters, married bretheren, & single brothers.

John Cosens Ogden, noted a graveyard in 1800 Bethlehem, PA, “It is surrounded partly with a stone wall, towards the street, where it cannot be enlarged, partly with a neat wooden fence, on those sides where it may be extended from time to time.”

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Walls & Fences around The White House in Early America

Watercolor of the White House's South Grounds, 1827. This watercolor painted by an anonymous artist, depicts the White House and its grounds from the southwest. The watercolor shows the recently built South Portico, constructed in 1824 during the Monroe administration, Thomas Jefferson’s stone walls, workers’ cottages, an orchard, & President John Quincy Adam's tree nursery.

To expand the grounds around the proposed White House, Washington purchased the land for what is now the South lawn from a tobacco planter named Davy Burns, while the North grounds originally belonged to the Pierce family before falling into the hands of speculators.

1803 White House by Nicholas King in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. The cornerstone of the President’s House was laid October 13, 1792. When the White House was first occupied in 1800, the site of the South Lawn was an open meadow gradually descending to a large marsh, the Tiber Creek, & to the Potomac River beyond.

The gardens & grounds at the White House evolved slowly as the nation grew. Initially President George Washington (1789–1797) chose French engineer & architect Pierre-Charles L'Enfant (1754-1825) to draw a plan of the city of Washington, envisioning a setting of terraced formal gardens descending to Tiber Creek.

1791 Thomas Jefferson, [Proposed Plan of Federal City], March 1791, Ink on paper, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division Library of Congress.

When Washington & L'Enfant mapped out the "President's Park," in 1791, Washington sketched reflecting pools & terraced gardens falling toward the water from an executive palace rivaling Versailles on 82 acres. When finally completed, the White House was about a quarter of the size L'Enfant dreamed of, but gardens would surround the residence.
1792 Pierre Charles L'Enfant, Plan of the City of Washington, March 1792, Library of Congress

After Washington dismissed L’Enfant, the design of the White House was thrown open to an architectural competition in 1792. James Hoban (1758–1831), an Irish-born & trained architect then living in Charleston, South Carolina, won the design competition for the White House. Hoban immigrated to the United States working as an architect & builder in Philadelphia & Charleston, from 1785 until his move to the nation’s capital in 1792.

When John Adams (1797–1801), the 1st President to live in Hoban's proposed mansion, moved into the house in 1800, one Washingtonian wrote that the grounds were "at present in great confusion, having on it old brick kilns, pits to contain water used by the brick makers."
c 1804 Jefferson's White House. Library of Congress.

Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) noted in 1803, "The surrounding Ground was chiefly used for Brick yards, it was enclosed in a rough post and rail fence." Presidents were faced with a scraggly, unpromising vista of tobacco-depleted clay soil scattered with abandoned workers' cottages bordered by a malarial swamp. The greatest majority of presidential landscaping efforts would be consumed with grading & filling projects throughout the 19C.

In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson (1801-09) began planning improvements for the White House gardens & grounds, including a stone wall around the house. President Thomas Jefferson ordered the construction of a wooden post & rail fence around the White House. By 1808, he had replaced the fence with a stone wall that enclosed the White House Grounds. At the south end of the grounds, a ha-ha wall (a sunken wall that serves as a vertical barrier while providing an uninterrupted view of the landscape) stood to prevent livestock from grazing in the garden. President Jefferson envisioned the South Grounds as a private garden with serpentine walks & a lawn that extended down to Tiber Creek (which runs under present-day Constitution Avenue), edged by a flower border. The North Grounds were to be formal, symmetrical, & open to the public.

Jefferson, who was always arranging & rearranging the grounds at Monticello, was the first president to devise an overall landscape plan for the grounds. The plan included the fence, as well as grading & planting the south grounds for more privacy.

We learn from Margaret Bayard Smith's diary, published in 1906, the Jefferson "was very anxious to improve the ground around the President's House; but as Congress would make no appropriation for this and similar objects, he was obliged to abandon the idea, and content himself with enclosing it with a common stone wall and sewing it down in grass. Afterwards when the Grisly Bears, brought by Capt Lewis from the far west, (where he had been to explore the course of the Missouri,) were confined within this enclosure, a witty federalist called it the President's bear-garden."

Jefferson wanted groves of trees, and he picked the location for the flower garden. Fences & walls were eventually built, where he had specified. He also directed the planting of numerous trees between 1802 -1806.  Smith wrote that "Jefferson's design to have planted them exclusively with trees, shrubs and flowers indigenous to our native soil. He had a long list made out in which they were arranged according to their forms and colors and the seasons in which they flourished. To him it would have been a high gratification to have improved and ornamented our infant City. But the only thing he could effect, was planting Pennsylvania Avenue with Lombard Poplars, which he designed only for a temporary shade, until Willow oaks, (a favorite tree of his) could attain a sufficient size. But this plan had to be relinquished as well as many others from the want of funds."

Jefferson completed grading of the South Lawn, building up mounds on either side of a central lawn, similar to the 100-foot diameter mounds he built at his villa retreat Poplar Forest for his retirement in 1809.

President Jefferson & his surveyor of public buildings, Benjamin Latrobe located a triumphal arch as a main entry point to the grounds, just southeast of the White House. Jefferson's arc of triumph was flanked by two memorial weeping willow trees. “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth...but though an old man, I am but a young gardener," he wrote to a friend from his Poplar Forest retreat in 1811.
1807 Latrobe White House Library of Congress.

William Stebbins described the grounds around the White House in Washington D. C. in 1810, "Extended my walk alone to the President's house: -- a handsome edifice, tho' like the capitol of free stone: the south yard principally made ground, bank'd up by a common stone wall: a plain picket fence on each side, the passage way to the house on the north: --some of the pickets lying on the ground."
1810 Etching of the White House with stone walls

Hostilities with Great Britain, begun in 1812, culminated in the invasion of Washington on August 24, 1814. British troops entered the defenseless city; ate a dinner prepared for the fleeing President at the White House; and then torched the building, destroying all but the outer walls and most of the plantings.
Paul Jennings, President James Madison's (1809–1817) personal slave who witnessed the burning, reports that it was the Madison's White House gardener, and not Dolley Madison who saved the portrait of George Washington from burning with the White House. "When the British did arrive, they ate up the very dinner, and drank the wines, &c., that I had prepared for the President's party."
1814 A view of the president's house in the city of Washington after the conflagration of the 24th of August 1814. Library of Congress.

At the urging of James Madison, Congress decided to rebuild rather than move the capital to another city. Hoban returned to reconstruct the President’s House, as it had been before the fire. President James Monroe (1817–1825) moved into a new house in the autumn of 1817.  A new semicircular driveway marked by eight stone piers, an iron fence & gates was built across the North Front of the White House.

While the White House was being rebuilt after the 1814 fire, James Monroe increased tree plantings on the grounds based on plans by architect Charles Bulfinch.  
1814 White House on Fire. William Strickland, engraver. Library of Congress.

The front of the White House was used as a common for fairs & parades until 1822, when Pennsylvania the avenue was cut through the north side of the President’s Park & soon after a public park was established.

The federal government used Charles Bulfinch’s (1763–1844) planting scheme for a thick grove of trees for the square north of the White House & named the park in honor of General Lafayette in 1824-1825.
1818 Robert King, A Map of the City of Washington in the District of Columbia, Library of Congress.
Washington City, 1820 Baroness Hyde Neuville.
1820 The White House in 1820, a painting by George Catlin showing some walls & fences..
1833 The White House
A long & heavy wrought iron fence was installed along Pennsylvania Avenue on the north side of the White House. Jefferson’s stone wall was cut down along this run & served as the foundation for the new fence. This work was integrated into the existing 1818-1819 semicircular fencing.
1830s Detail of Lithograph by D. W. Kellog & Co. Library of Congress.

During the 1830's President Andrew Jackson (1829–1837) became a big supporter of the White House gardens hiring several laborers to assist White House gardener John Ousley. During Jackson's term elm, maple, & sycamore trees were planted for the first time. He had walks laid out among garden beds filled with foxglove, dragonhead, sweet William and daisies.
1833 Painted depiction of the south face of the White House. A long & heavy wrought iron fence was installed along Pennsylvania Avenue on the north side of the White House. Jefferson’s stone wall was cut down along this run & served as the foundation for the new fence. This work was integrated into the existing 1818-1819 semicircular fencing.

The famous Jackson magnolias were added to the White House grounds in 1835, which he planted in honor of his wife Rachel, who died shortly before he took office in 1829. The oldest surviving trees on the property now are those two southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) at the east end of what is now the Rose Garden.
About this time, square & rectangular garden beds were no longer in fashion. They could be oval, circle, diamond, star, crescent, or any shape other than a rectangle or square. Walls still remained.

Politics invaded the garden during Martin Van Buren's term from 1837 to 1841. Leafing through White House bills, Rep. Charles Ogle of Pennsylvania declared that Van Buren had been busy "constructing fountains, paving footways, planting, transplanting, pruning and dressing horse chestnuts, lindens, beds and borders, training and irrigating honey suckles, trumpet creepers, primroses, lady slippers...and preparing beautiful bouquets for the palace saloons."
1848 August Kollner (1813-1906) The President's House showing the statue which relocated Jefferson's walls.

In 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant expanded the grounds southward & enclosed them with iron fencing. He also began the policy of closing the grounds at sunset but successive presidents determined their own policy upon taking up residency at the White House. 

From its start as a wooden post & rail fence in 1801, the walls & fences around the White House have evolved with the changing landscape of the city of Washington & the security needs of the First Family. In 1893, Grover Cleveland closed the South Grounds after strangers attempted to take photographs with his youngest daughter Esther. In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt briefly reopened the South Grounds, but visitors continued to take liberties with access & tried to photograph & meet with the Roosevelt family, forcing the president to close the South Grounds. In 1913, William Howard Taft restricted access to the North Grounds, only permitting the public to enter on certain days & specific times.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Walls at Public Buildings in Early America

State House Garden in Philadelphia. Jedidiah Morse 1789, describing the State House Yard in Philadelphia noted that “The state house yard, is a neat, elegant & spacious public walk, ornamented with rows of trees; but a high brick wall, which encloses it, limits the prospect.”

Brick & stone walls were usually enclosed the grounds of public buildings & grave-yards in early America. Most private homes & gardens were "well paled in" with fences made of wood. An act of the Virginia General Assembly of 1705, intended to protect the gardens from stray pigs, horses & cattle, required the owners of every lot on Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg, to "inclose the said lots, or half acres, with a wall, pales, or post and rails, within six months after the building, which the law requires to be erected thereupon, shall be finished."  The minimum height of the fence was set at 4 & one-half feet & but many were built higher. 

Early colleges in America often had walled grounds. My absolute favorite description of one of these walls was by Moreau de St. Mery (1750-1819), when he visited Princeton, New Jersey in the 1790s.
College at Princeton, New Jersey in 1764 "The central part of the facade protrudes. There are ten windows on each side of it, and below the pediment there are six other windows on the facade. All in all, this building has an impressive appearance for America...Before it is a huge front yard set off from the street by a brick wall, and at intervals along the wall are pilasters supporting wooden urns painted gray. This front yard is untidy, covered with the droppings of animals who come there to graze...In its center is an old iron cannon, a four-pounder, without a carriage. This cannon, the dilapidated condition of the encircling wall, the number of decorative urns that have fallen to the ground, everything bears the imprint of negligence, and one reaches the building grieved that the pupils have such an unpleasant example before their eyes." (Moreau de St. Mery on Princeton)" 

On May 8, 1704, describing in the Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia the construction in Williamsburg, Virginia, “Ordered. That the consideration of the proposall of the said Committee relating, to the Capitol being inclosed with a brick wall be referred til tomorrow morning. Ordered. That the Overseer appointed to inspect and oversee the building of the Capitol make a Computation what the Charges may amount to of inclosing the Capitol with a Brick Wall of two Bricks thick and four feet and a half high to be distant sixty foot from the fronts of the East and West Building and the said building and that he lay the same before the House to morrow.”
William Burgis's View Of Harvard College In 1726
New Haven, Connecticut, Yale in 1786
Pennsylvania Hospital, Eighth & Pine streets. William Birch print, c. 1800. Founded in 1751 as the first hospital in the Colonies, it also became the first place to provide clinical instruction to medical students in what would become the United States. (As of 1767, requirements for a Penn medical degree included one year attending the practice of the hospital. Students purchased tickets for hospital privileges, which included use of the library.) The public grounds of the Philadelphia Hospital, where patients & their families could find a few moments away from their cares, were also enclosed by a brick wall.

Peter Kalm wrote of New York City, "In addition to the hospital...there is another farther up Broadway... There is a yard where patients are allowed to walk, and plans call for planting trees in it." The hospital in Philadelphia also had a walled yard planted with trees and crossed with walks for its patients and their visitors to walk in.

In 1706, the act of the Virginia legislature authorizing the building of the Governor's Palace allocated 635 pounds for the construction of the garden with these instructions, "that a Court-Yard, of dimensions proportionable to the said house, be laid out, levelled and encompassed with a brick wall 4 feet high with the balustrades of wood thereupon, on the said land, and that a Garden of the length of 254 foot and the breadth of 144 foot from out to out, adjoining to the said house, to be laid out and levelled and enclosed with a brick wall, 4 feet high, with ballsutrades of wood upon the said wall, and that handsome gates be made to the said court-yard and garden." 
Bodleian Plate from about 1740 of The College of William and Mary and the Governor's Place and Public Buildings in Williamsburg.  The Bodleian Plan shows long rectangular parterres at William and Mary dissected by an Baroque axial walkway bordered by boxwood or similar plantings all adhering to a sense of classical proportion.

My favorite depiction of walls in the Middle Plantation, Williamsburg's early name, is from a 1702 drawing by a Swiss traveler Franz Ludwig Michel which depicts the brick walls at both the 1699 Capitol and the 1680 Bruton Parish Church. (Some of my way-back relatives are buried in that walled churchyard.) I know these aren't garden walls, but there is an antique peace that envelopes that graveyard.
There is some evidence that the walled gardens at both the Governor's Palace and the College of William and Mary were plotted by English garden designer George London, who was working on Hampton Court under architect Christopher Wren during the same period. London was building brick walls around gardens there as well.

In a letter from English garden writer John Evelyn (1620-1706) to Virginia planter John Walker, Evelyn wrote in 1694, "Mr. London (his Majs Gardner here) who has an ingenious Servant of his, in Virginia, not unknown to you by this time; being sent thither on purpose to make and plant the Garden, designed for the new College, newly built in yr Country."
Williamsburg Brick Wall

In 1706, the act of the Virginia legislature authorizing the building of the Governor's Palace allocated 635 pounds for the construction of the garden with these instructions, "that a Court-Yard, of dimensions proportionable to the said house, be laid out, levelled and encompassed with a brick wall 4 feet high with the balustrades of wood thereupon, on the said land, and that a Garden of the length of 254 foot and the breadth of 144 foot from out to out, adjoining to the said house, to be laid out and levelled and enclosed with a brick wall, 4 feet high, with ballsutrades of wood upon the said wall, and that handsome gates be made to the said court-yard and garden."

Further authorizations for money to construct the garden were made in 1710. The garden authorized in 1706 was not complete until 1720. When new Virginia Governor William Gooch (1681-1751) arrived in 1727, he wrote of a "handsome garden, an orchard full of fruit, and a very large park."
Brick Wall Around Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The entrance courtyard was separated from the rear formal garden by brick walls. A gate in the brick wall of the formal garden to the east led to Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood's (1676-1740) "falling garden," a series of 3 terraces descending to a ravine where Spotswood had a stream dammed to create a "fine canal." 

While the Palace's formal gardens & protective brick walls reflected the Baroque style, which had been popular for years since Le Notre's Versailles, opening the gate in the brick wall & stepping out into the countryside to a natural ravine with its canal was an anticipation of the freedom of the picturesque jardin anglais just over the horizon.

Even Williamsburg's Powder Magazine, built in 1714, had an octagonal 10' high brick wall constructed around it in 1755, leaving a 20' wide green courtyard surrounding the building.
Powder Magazine at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. 

Hugh Jones (1669-1760) descibed the William and Mary College garden about 1716, "It is approached by a good Walk, and a grand Entrance by steps with good Courts and Gardens about it."

An onlooker noted in the Maryland Gazette on  January 4, 1770, describing the State House, “The General Assembly having been pleased to grant to the Value of 7500 Sterling, for building a State-House. . . & for enlarging, repairing, & enclosing the Parade, not exceeding its present Length of 245 feet, & 160 in Breadth, designed to be enclosed with Stone or Brick Wall, & Iron Palisadoes, if the Iron Inclosure should not exceed 500 Sterling.”

Joseph Scott, 1806, describing a public prison in Philadelphia, PA . “The yard belonging to the criminal prison extends nearly to Prune street, on which is the debtors’ apartment. The whole is surrounded by a lofty stone wall.”

In 1811, David Hosack, noted the establishment of the Elgin Botanic Garden, New York, NY 
“Accordingly, in the following year, 1801, I purchased of the corporation of the city of New York twenty acres of ground...At a considerable expense, the establishment was inclosed by a well constructed stone wall...The whole establishment was enclosed by a stone wall, two & an half feet in breadth, & seven & an half feet high.”