Sunday, January 31, 2021

Wood Fences in 17C & 18C Virginia - The Brush Fence

 The Brush Fence

The quickest and most economical fence to construct had as its components the by-products of land clearing. The fieldstone walls which characterized much of the New England landscape represent one fencing variety of the type. In other areas, including Virginia, stumps, brush, logs, deadwood, or combinations thereof were massed into tangled barriers. While the stone wall of New England remained a useful form for centuries. Its wooden equivalent, however, proved neither as durable nor effective and its use was most likely confined to the early stages of settlement or other temporary situations.

In the 17C & 18C Atlantic British American colonial coast, fences were built for mainly practical reasons. In the southern colonies, livestock of all kinds was accommodated in the woods surrounding the cultivated fields. As the animals could be branded or otherwise marked for owner identification & cleared land was often limited, crops came to be enclosed & livestock was thus fenced out. But, in New England & parts of the middle colonies, livestock was customarily fenced in.  By no means restricted to agricultural use, fences also defined & protected all types of rural & urban spaces, such as churchyards, gardens, & workyards, throughout the colonies.

These fences were common in the Chesapeake & in Tidewater Virginia. Fencing was sometimes achieved by the use of masonry walls, but native stone is a scarce resource in the Tidewater region, though brick was used to build some churchyard walls & to enclose certain buildings there. The majority of Virginia fences were constructed of wood. All fence types co-existed during the colonial period; the historical record offers no indication that one type completely supplanted another.

Text from: Partitioning the Landscape: The Fence in Eighteenth-Century Virginia
Vanessa E. Patrick. December 6, 1983. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series - 0134

Saturday, January 30, 2021

What did Tho Jefferson's (1743-1824) Exuberant Vines Climb On? A Fence? A Wall? An Arbor?

There are a variety of plants that Thomas Jefferson recorded which are intriguing not just because they are unusual or rare or uncommon in the gardens of his time, but also because they lead us to speculate about how they might have been grown. Staking, pruning, & training techniques, for example, are not generally spelled out in his correspondence & memoranda. We wonder how he dealt with those exuberant climbers that grow beyond reasonable bounds, reaching outward & upward toward sun & space.

Plants that sprawl & trail come in many forms: from tender annuals to long-lived woody shrubs. Their allure is often enhanced by a sense of wildness that they bring to an otherwise tame & tidy garden. But, regardless of their many attributes, climbers & ramblers will eventually present a quandary akin to that which is experienced with the likes of zucchinis & baby alligators:"what do you do with them when they grow up?" 

Jefferson, in his early conceptual designs for the Monticello landscape, seemed to take a naturalist, laissez-fair approach regarding the native vines & climbing species that he wished to cultivate. In 1771, at the age of 28, he made elaborate plans for the grounds of his Little Mountain, in which he specified that "Jessamine [Gelsemium sempervirens], honeysuckle [Lonicera sempervirens], sweetbriar [Rosa eglanteria], & even hardy flowers which may not require attention" should be interspersed throughout the landscape. His fanciful idea for a grotto at the North Spring included "an abundance of Jesamine, Honeysuckle, sweet briar, etc." 

And his plant lists for "The Open Ground on the West—a shrubbery" contained "Climbing shrubby plants—Trumpet flower [either Campsis radicans or Bignonia capreolata]—Jasmine—Honeysuckle." He included the perennial or everlasting pea, Lathyrus latifolius, in his list of perennial flowers & he also added honeysuckle, Jessamine, & poison ivy, Rhus radicans, in his list of trees, suggesting that he considered these plants, which can grow fifty feet or more, to be in the same category as the trees they climbed upon.

Jefferson's vision echoed the British horticultural writer Philip Miller, author of the seminal work The Gardener's Dictionary. In fact, the 1768 edition of this tome resided in Jefferson's library. Miller wrote that such trailing plants, "...should be planted in Large Wilderness-quarters, near the Stems of great Trees, to which they should be trained up; where, by their wild Appearance, they will be agreeable enough." 

This idea of allowing ramblers to creep through the shrubbery & encircle the bases of trees was, in fact, pioneered a generation earlier by the influential English landscape writer Batty Langley in New Principles of Gardening (1728). Each of the high-reaching vines Jefferson listed has very desirable ornamental features, such as fragrance, showy flowers of vivid yellow, light lavender, warm cantaloupe-orange, or bright red, &, in the case of poison ivy, brilliant fall color.

In 1807, as Jefferson approached retirement from his 2nd Presidential term, he noted in his Garden Book on April 27 that seeds of the North American clematis, or virgin's bower, Clematis virginiana, were planted "about the 3. springs on & near the road from the river up to the house & at the Stone spring." 

Here again, Jefferson's intention to create a scene where the vine tumbles & cascades over the woodland springs with a shower of fragrant, creamy-white flowers resonates with Philip Miller's dictionary entry for clematis in which he wrote: "These may also be planted to cover Seats in Wilderness-quarters, that are designed for shade; to which Purpose these Plants are very well adapted...Stick some Rough boughs ... for them to ramp upon..." 
Lathyruslatifolius - Perennial Pea

In the restored Monticello vegetable garden, the most prominent structural feature for supporting climbers is Jefferson's arbor—an enormous twelve-foot-high structure made of locust posts & cedar rails. Jefferson intended this design for his vineyard. 
Hyacinth Bean Arbor

But, we know some type of arbor was used for, according to Jefferson's Garden Book entry for April 17, 1812, "arbor beans white, scarlet, crimson, purple..." were planted. The scarlet runner bean, Phaseolus coccineus—which flowers in white, scarlet, or scarlet & white bicolor forms—was the most likely candidate. It was common in English Gardens both for the kitchen &, as Miller wrote, " cover Arbours, & other Seats, in the Summer season, to afford Shade..." But the purple-flowering variety could have been the hyacinth bean, Dolichos lablab (syn. Lablab purpureus).

The Hyacinth Bean, a luxuriant climber covered with rich-purple foliage & deep lavender (or occasionally white) flowers, is one of the most dramatic & eye-catching elements in the Monticello vegetable garden today. From late summer through the first hard freeze the vines' thick, ropy stems twine around the bean arbor &, from the vantage of Mulberry Row overlooking the garden, 

Probably the most spectacular vine for the garden arbor is yet another ornamental legume: the show-stopping snail flower or Caracalla bean, Vigna caracalla. Despite its curious common name, Thomas Jefferson justly called it "The most beautiful bean in the world." Philip Miller's Dictionary (1768) described it as: "... a kidney-bean with a twining stalk ... [which] grows naturally in the Brazils, from whence the seeds were brought to Europe." Miller observed further: "It is very common in Portugal, where the inhabitants plant it to cover arbours & seats in gardens, for which it is greatly esteemed ..., for its beautiful sweet smelling flowers."

Since Jefferson's time, fashion has dictated the rise & fall of the Caracalla's popularity. During the 1890s, New York nurseryman Peter Henderson claimed that the bluish-lilac flowers were "valued by florists for their delicious fragrance & for their resemblance to Orchids." 

By the early 19C, however, Liberty Hyde Bailey's Cyclopaedia observed, "It is an old-fashioned glasshouse plant in cold climates, but is now rarely seen." 

Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon, who is considered Jefferson's gardening mentor, offered very detailed instructions for staking runner beans & other climbers in his book, The American Gardener's Calendar (1806), another important reference in Jefferson's library. For running kidney beans & Carolina lima beans, McMahon advised the gardener to "place two or three tall poles to each hill for them to climb on." 
English Peas

For shorter climbers with tender tendrils, such as English peas, "sticking" has historically been the method of choice. Philip Miller's instructions for his eighteenth-century audience were rather bluntly put: "when the Plants are grown eight or ten inches high, you should stick some rough Boughs, or Brush-wood, into the Ground close to the Peas, for them to ramp upon..." 

But McMahon offered greater details & alternative methods for American gardeners in his Calendar (1806): "As to sticking peas, always be careful to have this done when they are about six inches high; ... & if they are double sticked, the better; that is, place a range of sticks on the one side, all in a regular declining manner, & another on the other side of the row declining in an opposite direction to the former, by which, none can fall out on either side." Phillip Miller warned, "Otherwise [the vines] will ramble & trail upon the ground, & appear very unsightly" 

The flower gardens at Monticello offer different challenges for displaying climbers in an appropriate style for the period. Eighteenth-century British garden authorities, who often made a big point of what was & was not considered proper in the "Pleasure Garden," deemed that the sticking method was just as acceptable for ornamental plantings of sweet-scented peas, Lathyrus odoratus, as for the edible sorts in the vegetable garden.

Miller discussed the three sweet-pea varieties known at the time, the ones he described as bearing "...purple, white, & 'pale-red' flowers, which is commonly called by the Gardeners, Painted-lady Peas." He continued with the following cultural directions: "Where they are sown for Ornament, there should be six or eight seeds sown in a small Patch, in different Parts of the Borders of the Flower-garden; & ... when they are grown two or three Inches high, there should be some Sticks put down by them to support them; otherwise they will trail on the Ground, & become unsightly; besides they will trail on whatever Plants grow near them."
lathyrus odoratus - Painted Lady

But the delicate, spring-flowering sweet peas are relatively well behaved when compared to the more rambunctious, heat-loving, summer climbers that Jefferson documented. Annual vines like the balsam apple (Momordica balsamina) & cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) grow much taller than the sweet pea, & are wont to cover & smother whatever supports them... By summer's end, the tangle of cypress vine & balsam apple foliage creates a stunning combination of fine & coarse textures surrounding the balsam apples' bizarre, bright-orange fruits. 

Keeping these climbers contained & reined into the ten-foot long compartments of the winding flower border at Monticello is quite another story. Without the support of a fence, wall, or lattice work, one solution with tolerable results has been simply to use longer pea sticks & to allow the vines to spill over the tops of spring-flowering perennials such as peonies.

Jefferson recorded the planting of the everlasting pea, Lathyrus latifolius, on 2 occasions in his Garden Book. The first planting, mentioned previously, was part of his 1771 scheme for "The Open Ground on the West—a Shrubbery" at Monticello. The 2nd time, it was displayed prominently in an oval flower bed on Monticello's East Front as part of Jefferson's 1807 flower garden plans. 

The everlasting pea in Jefferson's shrubbery likely reflected the style of the British wilderness garden, in which Miller wrote: "These plants are very proper to plant against a dead hedge, where they will run over it; & if they be kept train'd up, will cover it in the Summer." With growth to nine feet, the everlasting pea is too tall & lanky for the traditional pea-sticking method. Might the vines have been staked with something more substantial in the oval flower bed? 

See: By Monticello's Peggy Cornett in 2010

Research & images & much more are directly available from the Monticello website - to begin exploring, just click the highlighted publication attribution above. 

Friday, January 29, 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."

The Rural House & Yards

John Beale Bordley (1726/27-1804) . Essays & Notes on Husbandry & Rural Affairs. Printed by Budd and Bartram, for Thomas Dobson, at the stone house, no 41, South Second Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1799

Design of the Rural House and Yards

The whole yard and its buildings, should be in view from the mansion; and that they be construdted at a proper distance, neither too near nor too far from the mansion. The food should be near to the housed live slock, for readily distributing it. The yard ought to be compact; and the doors of the buildings, and the gates of the yard, seen from the mansion.

It is not to save ground that compactness is here desired; but that the attentions due to the live stock may be performed in the readied and best way. A yard containing cattle always housed, is never to be littered with straw, but all litter carelessly dropt on it, is to be raked off, for security against fire dropt on the way to the boiling house; and the beasts are not suffered to stroll about wasting dung and urine. When let out and watered, they are to be instantly returned to their stalls, regularly in detachments, one set after another.

The homestead includes this yard; together with its stockyard, the garden, nursery, orchard, and some acres for occasional use: such as the letting mares, or sick beasts run in, at liberty. The farmstead should include:

Kitchen, Oven, and Ash Hole
Poultry-house and yard
Family yard
Watering troughs
Sow and Pig Sties
Sheep-house and yard
Stable, for farm
Bridge and vault
Chaise-house and stable
Waggon and cart-house
Implements of husbandry house

John Beale Bordley 1727-1804, Attorney, Author, Agriculturist

John Beale Bordley (1726/27-1804)  by Charles Willson Peale 1790

Article from The Salisbury Times (now called The Delmarva Times), Salisbury, Maryland - May 22, 1958 from the Delmarva Heritage Series, by Dr. William H. Wroten, Jr.

John Beale Bordley was born in February, 1727, four months after his father's death. His mother remarried for the third time & the young boy did not have a pleasant home life. So at the age to ten, he went to live with his uncle in Chestertown. He received his early education under the direction of schoolmaster, Charles Peale, the father of the famous American painter, Charles Willson Peale. In his later life, John Beale Bordley arranged for the artist Peale to study in England under the famous American expatriate artist Benjamin West. Bordley, with the aid of others, saw to it that Peale had enough money for at least two years of study. Peale later painted four portraits of John Bordley, & also a picture of his two sons, Thomas & Matthias. 

At seventeen, John went back to Annapolis to live with & study under his attorney half-brother, Stephen Bordley. Before practicing law, however, he spent more time in studying history, philosophy, mathematics, surveying, & other fields of the arts & sciences. 

Shortly after his marriage to Margaret Chew in 1750, John felt it necessary to break away from the luxurious & fashionable society of his brother's world in Annapolis. He & his young wife went to live at Joppa, then in the "wilderness" of Baltimore County. For the next 12 or 13 years he worked his plantation & at the same time held a most lucrative clerkship, for Joppa at the time was the county seat. Later he moved to Baltimore City, where he was appointed a judge of the Provincial Court in 1776, & in the following year, a judge of the British Admiralty Court. In 1768, he had been one of the commissioners to help determine the boundary between Maryland & Delaware (some say Pennsylvania), & also served as a member of Governor Sharpe's & Governor Eden's Councils. 

The year 1770 was of great importance in the life of John Beale Bordley for his wife inherited from the Chew family half of Wye Island - the other half going to his sister-in-law, Mary, wife of William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence & a governor of Maryland. Although the Bordleys maintained their winter residence in Annapolis, they moved to his beautiful estate on Wye Island in Queen Anne's County. For many years he was able to devote much of his time & wealth to agrarian experiments. From time to time he added to his holdings with the purchase of Poole's Island & farms on the mainland in Kent, Harford, & Cecil Counties. He farmed on a large scale & endeavored to improve practices of agriculture with the aid of imported machinery, seeds, & books on husbandry. It was because of his farming practice on Wye Island & on his other farms that Bordley became widely influential in the field of agriculture in this period of American history. Bordley personally conducted what amounted to an agricultural experiment station on Wye Island.

Although tobacco had long been the basis of the Maryland economy, Bordley experimented with wheat & flax; which he proved to the other farmers could be grown successfully. He also condemned the two & three field rotation system in favor of an eight field system, which included three fields of clover in the rotation plan. Thus, even without the aid of chemistry, he had hit upon the contribution of legumes to the soil. He also experimented with hemp, cotton, fruits, many kinds of vegetables, & animal husbandry. Before long, the wharves that he had built at his plantation were busy for he had established a profitable wheat trade with England & Spain. However, despite the fact he had made a small fortune from this trade when the Townsend Duties were passed by England against the colonies, Bordley showed his patriotism by abiding with the policy of non-importation.

Historian Scharf, quoting from memoirs of the Bordley family says, "When his foreign beers, wines, porters, ales, etc., began to diminish in his cellars, he started a brewery of his own, & planted a vineyard. He ground his own flour in his own windmills; made his own brick in his own brickyard & kiln; clothed his own servants in kersey & linsey woolsey, manufactured by his own looms from led, spun & wove his own flax; rotted & twisted hemp grown on his far in his won rope-walk; did his own carpentering & blacksmithing, & had his own private granary for the ships. When this independent Maryland farmer's beer was fermented, he put it away in casks made by his own carpenters, from timber cut down out of his own woods, & he even manufactured his own salt, from the Chesapeake Bay water, rather than be dependent upon Great Britain for anything." 

And when the Revolutionary War broke out, Bordley continued his personal fight with Great Britain. Poole's Island early became an important base for sending supplies to General Washington's army & other military units. And although he had gone to Annapolis at the beginning of the war, because of the danger of British raids on the Eastern Shore, he returned to Wye Island in 1778 to raise provisions for the American army. Shortly thereafter the British Tories & army stragglers attacked his plantation, but luckily they were driven off by the militia before much damage was done. 

In the meantime Bordley's first wife died; & in 1777, he married Mrs. John Miffin, a widow of Philadelphia. From that time on the Bordley family wintered in Philadelphia instead of Annapolis. He soon became a member of the American Philosophical Society. In, 1785 he made probably his greatest contribution to development of American agriculture by encouraging the formation of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, of which he was vice president & actively interested until his death. Although this society was not the first of its kind, (the South Carolina Agricultural Society specializing in rice culture was organized in 1784), it was by far the most influential in promoting general agriculture. The Society's voluminous Transactions presented the results of the members' experimentation in agriculture. 

Bordley himself made important contributions with his writings about agriculture. At first the results of his farming operations & studies were published on cards, then on handbills, & as essays, before coming out in book form. Some of these works are A Summary View of The Courses of Crops, In The Husbandry of England & Maryland (1784) & Sketches on Rotations of Crops & Other Rural Matters (1797). His famous book Essays & Notes on Husbandry & Rural Affairs, published in 1799, with additions in 1801, contains 566 pages describing a system of farming based on rotation of crops & deals with the several kinds of crops, fruits, & animals grown on England & Maryland farms, manures, farm buildings, dairy products, food, & even the diet for farm people. Although the style of writing is clear & practical, some of the advice would seem strange to us today - "threshing wheat by driving 24 horses in four ranks around a large threshing floor until they traveled 25 miles." 

Bordley also had the time & knowledge to write on such other subjects as yellow fever, manufacturing, national credit, money, weights & measures, the last three topics being published in 1789 with a supplement coming out in 1790. Bordley, who died in 1804 & was buried in St. Peter's Churchyard in Philadelphia.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

19C Garden Walls by Winslow Homer (1836-1910)

Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) Girl and LaurelWinslow Homer (1836-1910) Peach Blossoms by the Wall
Winslow Homer (1836-1910) Girl at a Garden Wall
Winslow Homer (1836-1910) Peach Blossoms at the Garden Wall
Winslow Homer (1836-1910) Girls on a Wall with a Lobster
Winslow Homer (1836-1910) The Garden Wall
Winslow Homer (1836-1910) On the Wall

Wednesday, January 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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Walls & Fences & Symbolism at the US Capitol in Early America

Cherry Blossoms at the United States Capitol Building. 

The 1863 Statue of Freedom on the Capitol dome which features a woman in a robe & headdress holding a sword in one hand & a laurel wreath of victory in the other, was designed by Thomas Crawford. The 19.5-foot statue weighs about 15,000 pounds.

In 1789, the US Congress - Senate & House of Representatives - assembled for the 1st time in New York. 

Amos Doolittle. View of the Federal Edifice in New York. The Columbian Magazine Philadelphia, August 1789. 

Congress moved to Philadelphia in 1790, and then to Washington, DC, in 1800. In May 3, 1802, Washington DC was incorporated as a city. In 1807, the Congress moved into the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, 4 years before the Capitol’s House wing was fully completed. 

In 1814, invading British forces burned the Capitol. It would be another 5 years before the chambers were fully restored. The Old Hall of the House, where Congress met from 1819 to 1857, was redesigned by Benjamin Henry Latrobe after the 1st hall was destroyed in the fire set by British troops in 1814. In 1857, the House met for the first time in its present-day chambers. 

This posting will look at the development & the symbolism of the building & the grounds around the United States Capitol, and how those considerations determined that there would be few fences or walls at the Capitol. 

The Library of Congress tells us that symbols are history encoded in visual shorthand. Eighteenth century Euro-Americans invented or adopted emblems - images accompanied by a motto &  personifications & allegorical figures - to express their social & political needs. They used them as propaganda tools to draw together the country's diverse peoples (who spoke many languages) in order to promote national political union, hoping to secure liberty & equal justice for all.
Classical Temple Dedicated to Liberty, Justice, and Peace. James Trenchard. Temple of Liberty. The Columbian Magazine, (Philadelphia) 1788, Library of Congress.  In 1788, Philadelphia's Columbian Magazine published this engraving. The artist Trenchard, born in 1746, at Penns Neck in Salem County, New Jersey, was an engraver & seal cutter in Philadelphia, and the artist for many of the plates appearing in the Columbian Magazine, whose circulation was the largest of any 18C magazine published in America.

This engraving of a classical temple building depicts statues on the roof, including Libertas (liberty), Justicia or Themis (justice), & Ceres (peace). Libertas is at the peak with the others on the corners. In the background a rising sun radiating beams of light with one shining upon Libertas holding her staff & freedom cap. Emerging from the pure, bright sunlight in the distance is the new nation--lady Columbia with an eagle headdress. Standing below is Concordia holding a horn of plenty; Columbia's winged son holding a scroll with CONSTITUTION written on it; and Clio, the muse of history, beginning to write the history of the new nation. Scrolling across the front of the classical temple are the words: SACRED TO LIBERTY, JUSTICE AND PEACE. Below this engraving was written,

Behold a Fabric now to Freedom rear'd,
Approved by friends, and ev'n Foes rever'd,
Where Justice, too, and Peace, by us ador'd,
Shall heal each Wrong, and keep ensheath'd the Sword
Approach then, Concord, fair Columbia's Son,
And faithful Clio, write that "We Are One."

Built on what came to be called Capitol Hill, its grounds changed greatly over the first half of the 19th century.
Dr. William Thornton's (1759–1828), a physician & an amateur architect, 
winning plan for the Capitol of the United States of America. Thornton's drawings and concept won the contest to design the capitol.

The compromise between the advocates for the North and those favoring a Southern location ended the feuding by agreeing on a nearly neutral location on the Potomac River, equidistant between North & South, and easily defended. It had been George Washington's choice all along.
c 1800 A View of the Capitol of Washington Watercolor by William Birch. No walls or fences.

The agreement on the general plan for the nation's capitol called for a 100-square mile federal district to be located somewhere along the Potomac River at a site to be chosen by fellow river-property owner, George Washington. Washington picked the junction of the Potomac & Anacostia Rivers. He then chose Pierre Charles L'Enfant, a military artist who had served under him at Valley Forge, to design the new federal city.
An 1801 View of George Town and the Federal City, or the City of Washington before its development into the federal city. Color aquatint by T. Cartwright of London after George Beck of Philadelphia. Published by Atkins & Nightingale of London and Philadelphia.

The Capitol of the United States crowns what was then Jenkins Hill in Washington, D.C., and houses the legislative branch of government, the House of Representatives & the Senate.
1806 Benjamin Latrobe View of the Capitol of the United States. Once again, no walls or fences.

Pierre Charles L'Enfant chose Jenkins Hill as the site for the United States Capitol building, which rose 88 feet above the Potomac River, and sat 1 mile from the White House. L'Enfant declared, "It stands as a pedestal waiting for a monument."
A view of the still undeveloped East Branch of Potomac River at Washington. Watercolor by August Kollner (1813-1906) in 1839.

The land on which the Capitol stands was 1st occupied by the Manahoacs & the Monacans, who were subtribes of the Algonquin Indians. Early settlers reported that these tribes occasionally held councils not far from the foot of the hill. This land eventually became a part of Cerne Abbey Manor. At the time of its acquisition by the federal government "Jenkins Hill" was owned by the well-to-do Marylander Daniel Carroll of Duddington, and it stood on a tract of land originally known by the more classically-inspired name of "New Troy."
1814 George Munger (1781-1825). United States Capitol after the British burned the capitol.

Thomas Jefferson came up with the name Capitol Hill, consciously invoking the famous temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill in ancient Rome. The building would be America's Temple of Liberty.

George Washington & his supporters wanted buildings that would embody the nation's hoped-for future. "In our Idea the Capitol ought in point of prosperity to be on a grand Scale, and that a Republic especially ought not to be sparing of expenses on an Edifice for such purposes."
1815 1st known depiction of the Capitol in Relation to Its Grounds by Benjamin Henry Latrobe [Plan of the Mall and the Capitol Grounds], Geography and Map Division Library of Congress.
Watercolor Presented to Marquis de Lafayette to Commemorate His 1824 Visit to Capitol. Charles Burton's West Front of the Capitol of the United States. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Construction proceeded slowly under a succession of architects, including Stephen Hallet (1793), George Hadfield (1795-98) and James Hoban (1798-1802), architect of the White House, who completed the Senate wing in 1800. 
Though the building was incomplete, the Capitol held its first session of United States Congress on November 17, 1800. 

The city's supporters, like L'Enfant & Washington, expected that the capital would grow to the east, leaving the Capitol & the White House essentially on its outskirts. For some years the land around the Capitol was regarded as a common, crossed by roads in several directions & intended to be left as an open area.
A drawing of the West Front of the United States Capitol as it appeared in 1831 by John Rubens Smith (1775-1849) 

By 1837, the Washington Guide reported, The Capitol Square has been enlarged to the west, by taking in that part of the Mall extending from the circular road to First street, west; making about eight acres additional. This space has been properly graded and planted with trees and shrubs by Mr. James Maher, the public gardener:—the other part of the square was planted by the late John Foy, a man of excellent talents and taste. A good substantial stone wall, surmounted by an iron-railing, surrounds the whole square. When the walks are completed, and the water-fountains arranged, this square will afford the most beautiful and healthful walks: a subject well deserving public attention.
1839 Capitol Overlooks Pastoral Landscape by Russell Smith. Capitol from Mr. Elliot's Garden. In the Collection of the Architect of the Capitol.
1839 Charles Fenderich's Elevation of the Eastern Front of the Capitol of the United States.
August Kollner (1813-1906). West Front of the United States Capitol. New York: Goupil, Vibert, & Co., 1839. Library of Congress.
1840 W.H. Bartlett's Ascent to the Capitol in Nathaniel P. Willis, American Scenery, vol. 1. London Virtue.

Boston architect Charles Bullfinch supervised the development of the building & grounds in 1818; and completed the building, with only slight modifications of Benjamin Latrobe's master plan, in 1830. Under Bullfinch in 1825, a plan was devised for imposing order on the Capitol grounds, & it was carried out for almost 15 years. The plan divided the area into flat, rectangular grassy areas bordered by trees, flower beds, & gravel walks. The growth of the trees, however, soon deprived the other plantings of nourishment, & the design became increasingly difficult to maintain in light of sporadic & small appropriations. 
1839 South Gateway of the Capitol at Washington, D.C. showing stone walls & iron rails. Gray and sepia wash drawing by August Kollner (1813-1906).
1840 W.H. Bartlett's View of the Capitol at Washington in Nathaniel P. Willis, American Scenery, vol. 1. London Virtue.
William Henry Harrison's presidential inauguration at the Capitol in 1841. His candidacy in 1840 was the 1st time American women became openly involved in a presidential campaign. (Library of Congress) 
Daguerreotype by John C. Plumbe, Jr., taken about 1846, is the earliest known photographic image of the Capitol. Library of Congress.
1848 August Kollner (1813-1906) Washington--Capitol (East View) 

In 1874, Congress passed an act making Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) the first landscape architect of the United States Capitol. Olmsted accepted the job, wishing to "train the tastes of the nation." The mid-19th-century enlargement of the US Capitol, in which the House & Senate wings & the new dome were added, required that the Capitol grounds be expanded.
John Singer Sargent (American artist, 1856-1925) Frederick Law Olmsted 1895

For the seat of the legislative branch of the United States of America, Olmsted wanted to make the Capitol building the crowning centerpiece. Olmsted was determined that the grounds should complement the building. 

His 15-year-long project on the grounds of the United States Capitol did envision an open setting immediately surrounding the Capitol & a more naturalistic scenery with shrubbery & trees further from the Capitol, nearer to its entrances.  Because of the many streets & entrances merging at the capitol, the creation of a workable circulation system dominated the design process. The east side of the Capitol needed more open spaces for large masses of people gathered for inaugurations & other large events normally held at the East Front. Two large naturalistic ovals with scattered trees were designed for the east side to accommodate the grounds needed during such events.
Olmsted's 1874 Plan for the US Capitol.  Olmsted wrote in 1874: "…. The elements of the plan must be as few, large and simple as they well can be consistently with convenience." He further describes, "two elliptical plots of ground will then be left, unbroken by roads, each 500' in length and 400' in breadth. They will have a gently undulating surface, will be partially shaded by a few groups of large trees between which the eye will range over glades of turf."

By 1879, the roads were paved & most of the work on the east side of the grounds was completed. The stone walls on the west side of the grounds were almost finished.  
The United States Capitol. The Capitol Grounds cover approximately 274 acres.