History of the Colonial Revival Garden at Stenton

 

Stenton’s Colonial Revival landscape is a significant expression of early 20th-century cultural ideals including fascination with the 18th-century past, plants as relics (boxwood from Mt. Vernon) and historic plantings, interest in native plants, and formal design with colorfully planted garden beds and paths.  The Colonial Dames conducted historical research in the Logan family papers to assemble a list of plants collected by James Logan (1674-1752) and William Logan (1718-1776) in the 18th century.  This list led to the creation of a historically-inspired planting scheme bedded into the classically designed form with a central lawn, paths and parterres, now known as Stenton’s Colonial Revival Garden.  Logan descendant, Letitia Ellicott Wright (1861-1933), served as Stenton’s first garden chair.  Her 1911-1913 Stenton Garden Scrapbook documents the planning, construction, purchases and donations, as well as planting and early maintenance of the Colonial Revival Garden.  The planting scheme has evolved over its first century, as the Colonial Dames experimented with the successes and failings of Wright’s suggested planting schemes and changes in the tree canopy.

 

 

Stenton garden c. 1912, facing Stenton wing, Charles R. Pancoast Collection, Stenton Photo Archives

Laying out the Colonial Revival Garden in 1911

Early generations of  The National Society of  The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania played leading and progressive roles in the national preservation movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Since 1899, Stenton has been the most visible symbol of the group’s preservation mission.  The Stenton garden was the brainchild of Garden Committee Chair Letitia Ellicott Wright and noted Philadelphia landscape architect and horticulturist John Caspar Wister (both Logan descendants.)  In 1911, Wright and Wister presented a plan for the garden and landscape, featuring a formal rectangular plan of bed and paths defined by boxwoods and a perimeter screen of native trees and under-story shrubs.  On May 1, 1913, Stenton’s new “Colonial Garden” served as the setting for the founding of the Garden Club of America, which elected Elizabeth Martin, a Stenton Committee member, as its first President.