John Bartram's Home a 100 years ago.
Note: Take a day and take a trip back to a hidden gem, visit Bartram's Garden
Bartram's Garden is a 45-acre National Historic Landmark operated by the John Bartram Association in cooperation with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. ... Visit Us. 5400 Lindbergh Blvd. Philadelphia, PA 19143
“A visitor to Bartram’s Garden, Philadelphia, is promptly ushered into an atmosphere redolent of Colonial days, for the quaint house standing in the midst of this early American botanical garden, is the one built by the botanist himself in 1734.
“It is of gray stone, and over its northern walls clamber dense ivy vines. The southern end, freer of vines, is pierced by two large windows, with curiously carven supports. Forth years after the house was built, a smooth block of stone was inserted between these windows (upper and lower) upon which was carved an inscription:
“’Tis God alone, Almighty Lord,
The Holy One by me adored.
--John Bartram ”
“Dormer windows jet out from the roof of the old house and between its two projecting wings is a porch supported by a stone pillar. From the front of the house, the famous botanic garden, probably the first one in America, slopes gently down to the Schuylkill River.
“A writer of the day tells us that when Charles Kingsley was in Philadelphia, some years ago, he visited this old garden, which contained rare trees, native and foreign, deciduous and evergreen of many varieties, blossoming shrubs, white and red cedars, spruces, pines, and firs thick with shade and spicy with odor.
“John Bartram, founder of the garden, was born near Darby Village, which is now an actual part of Philadelphia, although situated in another country. The date of his birth was March 23, 1699. He was of English descent, his grandfather having come to America with his sons in 1682, the year Philadelphia was founded. Only one son, William, married, and John Bartram was his oldest son. John Bartram inherited his uncle’s farm, and it is said that he turned his attention to botany, by what seemed to be an accident. While plowing, one day, he sat down to rest and, plucking up a daisy mechanically, began picking it to pieces. His interest became aroused, and studying its structure, he fell to wondering the purpose of the several parts of the flower.
“What a shame it is,” he said to himself, “that for so many years I have been employed in filling the earth and destroying as many flowers and plants without being acquainted with their structure and use.”
“A desire for knowledge along these lines seemed suddenly born within him, full-grown. In a few days he traveled to Philadelphia, and since the only obtainable book on botany was written in Latin, it is said he also purchased a Latin grammar, and studied the language, in order to read what was written about plant life. This is the story usually told, but his son indicates that the father had had the rudiments of a classical education and that he had always sought the society of learned men.
“James Logan sent to England for a copy of Parkinson’s Herbal, which he presented to Bartram. The latter then began to botanize all over his farm, acquainting himself with every plant, shrub and tree in the entire neighborhood. As opportunity offered, he made trips through neighboring New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware. Later he traveled to Virginia, the Carolinas and New York; until, in fact, he was acquainted with the nature and habits of every plant that grew between the Atlantic and the Allegheny range, and had recorded his observations with scientific exactness.”
“At first he traveled at his own expense and his trips gave him a great variety of new, beautiful or useful trees and plants. A young Philadelphia merchant carried John Bartram’s botanical notes to England, to Peter Collinson, a rich Quaker and a noted botanist. The latter at once began a correspondence with Bartram. “Indeed,” we are told, “it may be said that through John Bartram the vegetable wealth of North America was communicated to Europe.”
The two botanists, both Friends, not only exchanged long letters on the subject of mutual interest, but seeds, roots, slips and plants by every ship. Those which John Bartram sent from Philadelphia were tested by Collinson in his own garden and distributed among noblemen, for use in their parks. To encourage and assist Bartram in his investigations of the flora of a new land, Peter Collinson, the duke of Richmond and Lord Petre subscribed each ten guineas per year, the value of which was to be returned them in American seeds and roots. Later, John Bartram was made botanist to the king, at a salary of 50 pounds per year. “This,” says Dr. Harshberger, “was one of the wisest expenditures a king ever made, for it introduced into English parks and gardens every vegetable production of North America which could be of value.” Among these were bush honeysuckles, fiery lilies, mountain laurel, dog-tooth violets, wild asters, gentian, ginseng, and sweet fern, and such trees as the magnolia, tulips, locust, and witch hazel. He also sent cones of the spruce, hemlock, red and white cedar, and seeds of the sugar maple, “about which the Englishmen were very curious.”
“But the introduction of plants was not all one-sided. In 1735, Collinson sent many shrubs, trees and flowers, which were new to America. Among these, we are told, were tulips, double sweet briar roses, and twenty varieties of crocus, lilies, narcissus, gladiolus, iris, snapdragon, cyclamens, and carnations. These were all tested in “Bartram’s Garden,” and thence introduced to America.
“Bartram was busy continually with his explorations, and he allowed the dangers to stand in the way. In the course of his journeys in the wilderness, he made accurate drafts and surveys of widths, depths and course of streams and lakes together with observations on the soil, etc. These were all approved by the Governor, and sent to the Board of Trade, and Plantations in England, which published them.
“In Bartram’s Garden, side by side with the importations from Europe, there grew the many new and curious American plants he had discovered. One of these, known as the “giant cypress,” grew to great size, and live to great age.
“It was while on a trip through Florida that John Bartram lost his riding whip. Looking about for a switch, he saw a sapling in a swampy spot by the river. Lifting it by the roots, he carried it home, and planted it, predicting that it would grow to a great size.
“It is said that Washington and Franklin frequently visited the garden, prior to the Revolution, and sat in converse in the grape arbor. After the death of Bartram, which occurred just before the Battle of Brandywine, the garden was kept up by his son, William, who inherited the father’s love of plants. After his death, it passed to Bartram’s daughter, whose husband devoted himself with great care to preserving the collection. From their hands it passed to another owner, whose sentimental fondness for the place led him to preserve it, but at the outbreak of the civil War his fortunes declined. As the city had failed to secure the property, it gradually fell into disrepair, and was open to depredation and despoliation.
“In 1839 it was purchased by the city of Philadelphia, and thus a unique institution has been preserved.