Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Garden History - Walls


State House Garden in Philadelphia.

Although we usually tend to think of walls in 18th century America surrounding the grounds of public buildings like the garden facade of the State House in Philadelphia, often they also enclosed private homes and their gardens & grounds as well.

(Just to let you know how seriously my family takes all this blogging, my husband just called this my Humpty Dumpty blog. Reality check.)

1817 William Strictland (1787-1854). The South Front of the Philadelphia Hospital.

Well, back to the topic (which seems fairly interesting to me). The public gounds of the Philadlephia Hospital, where patients & their families could find a few moments away from their cares, were also enclosed by a brick wall.

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.

1750s Walled Garden and Grounds at Cleve in Virginia. Anne Byrd of Westover (1725-1757) (Mrs. Charles Carter). Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

As we drive through the countryside in both Maryland & Pennsylvania, there is abundant evidence of 18th century stone & brick walls surrounding both houses and plots of land which must have been gardens. But I do not find much discussion of walls in contemporary documents.

Advertisements in the Pennsylvaia Gazette give a glimpse of stone & brick walls around Philadelphia. 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."

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."

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.

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."

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."

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

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."

Walls around private gardens in the British American colonies before the 18th century are even more difficult to find. At the turn of the century in 1700, Virginia had about 58,000 inhabitants; but only 7 houses remain standing, that were built before that date. In contrast, Massachusettes had fewer people, but at least 65 houses from before 1700 survive in that state.

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.

em>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.

em>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 18th century, 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 headquarterers 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.

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 inevitable.

Of course, in Virginia, it is much easier to identify public buildings with walled gardens & grounds before 1700, thanks to the Bodliean Plate and to Colonial Williamsburg's ongoing research.

Bodliean Plate from about 1740 of The College of William and Mary and the Governor's Place and Public Buildings in Williamsburg.

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."

The 1740 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.

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.

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.

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."

Portrait of William Paca with the brick wall of his garden barely visible in the background by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)


Archeological excavations have also proven that the 1760s Annapolis town garden of William Paca (1740-1799) also was surrounded by a brick wall. The garden wall can be seen in the background of a portrait of William Paca painted by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827).

c 1763 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Mary Turner (Mrs. Daniel Sargent) in front of a 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"

1787 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Deborah McClenachan (Mrs. Walter Stewart) in front of a curving sophisticated wall.

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."


1772 William Williams (1727-1791). The William Denning in front of a tall, relatively simple brick wall.

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."

1787 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Sarah Chew Elliott (Mrs. John O'Donnell) in front of a curving wall with urns used as finials.

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.

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. In a 1764 print, Nassau Hall is depicted with a wall and urns.

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." em>(Moreau de St. Mery on Princeton)

Cambridge, Massachusettes, Harvard College in 1726

"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." em>(Moreau de St. Mery on Princeton)

New Haven, Connecticut, Yale in 1786

"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."em>(Moreau de St. Mery on Princeton)

University of Pennsylvania depicted in 1837

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 green...is the proper colour."

Humphrey Repton's Business Card designed by Thomas Medland ( c.1765 – 1833) depicts Repton's open, "natural" (although well-planned) landscape design. No fences or walls here.
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