Harmony Grove, an estate in London Grove Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, was the site of a botanic garden established by the self-taught botanist John Jackson (1748–1821) in the mid 1770s and preserved by successive generations of his family, several of whom shared an interest in botany.
Alternate Names: West Grove
Site Dates: 1725 until after 1916
Site Owner(s): Isaac Jackson (1665–1750); William Jackson (1705–1785); John Jackson (1748–1821); William Jackson (1789–1864); Isaac Jackson (1829–1868); Everard Conard (1814–1893)
Location: London Grove Township, Chester County, PA
Shortly after emigrating from Ireland to Pennsylvania, Quakers Ann (1677–1732) and Isaac (1665–1750) Jackson purchased 400 acres of wilderness property 45 miles southwest of Philadelphia, where they settled in 1725. Bounded by hills in a fertile limestone valley, the property possessed many natural advantages, including two sources of water: a natural spring on a hillside and a stream that fed into a branch of White Clay Creek. The Jacksons worked as weavers and also developed a farm that became known as Harmony Grove. Their third son, William Jackson (1705–1785), inherited the property in 1750 and built a stone house there in 1775. His will divided the property between his two younger sons, giving 100 acres of the western part of the estate to William (1746–1834) and 300 acres on the east, including the house and spring, to John (1748–1821).
Before he inherited the land at Harmony Grove, John Jackson had already established a botanic garden, having laid it out around the time of the Revolution on an acre and a half of level ground backing up to hills to the north and west of the house. He created groves and arcades of trees, including maple, sycamore, honey locust, mahogany, sweet gum, gingko, holly, and various nut trees. Other features of the garden design are suggested by the poem “Harmony Grove,” written in 1875 by Sarah W. Peterson, which mentions “the great box-bush,” “the broad walk,” and “cloistral avenues of pines and firs.” Jackson erected a stone greenhouse in the garden with a “quaint spring house” and dairy attached to it, and an upstairs room for drying and storing seeds (view text). An account published in 1878 noted that water from the spring flowed underground through the spring house and dairy and “collected in a square pond, which, with its diminutive outlet, furnished localities suited to the culture of aquatic plants.” The garden survived the Revolutionary War, and in a letter of 1789 to his friend Humphry Marshall, Jackson reflected “I hope the public peace will add fresh life and vigour to every useful science that may tend to adorn and enrich our country: the propagation of plants being one, and much my delight” (view text).
Cultivation of the botanic garden provided a pleasurable leisure-time activity for Jackson over the course of several decades. His surviving correspondence documents some of the botanical exchanges and purchases through which he acquired trees, shrubs, plants, and seeds for the garden. Among Jackson’s suppliers was Humphry Marshall, whose neighboring botanic garden reportedly provided the model for Harmony Grove (view text). A writer for a local newspaper claimed in 1822 that Jackson’s botanic garden, “stocked with a multitude of indigenous and foreign fruits and flowers” including orange and lemon trees, “has a greater variety of rare trees, plants, fruits and flowers than the celebrated garden of Humphry Marshall ever had” (view text). Jackson’s interest in botany led him to create several albums and lists of plant materials, preserved at Swarthmore College, two albums containing specimens of dried and pressed plants and wild flowers from Harmony Grove assembled between 1810 and 1819 (University of Delaware), and an herbarium (West Chester State University). The plants, many identified by common English as well as Latin names (some with labels written by Jackson’s friend William Darlington), include barberry, wood anemone, dogwood, aster, columbine, Solomon seal, watercress, and delphinium.
Harmony Grove’s fame lured many visitors. As a writer observed in 1822, “There are few who have not seen and admired or heard of and wished to see, the garden of JOHN JACKSON.” Jackson went out of his way to accommodate these guests. Thomas Peirce’s verses on the garden, composed in 1813, describe a secluded grove in which visitors found seats and a flower-bordered bower equipped with a desk, pen, ink, and paper “For such as choose to write/ Some brief encomiums on the place,” signing their “ditties” with names and dates (view text). Jackson also attached cards to the aloe trees in his garden with witty verses intended to dissuade visitors from scratching their names into the smooth leaves. Jackson’s descendants preserved the cards, one of which read: “Ye beaux and belles, I pray, forbear,/ My pretty leaves to scratch and tear;/ You little think the pain I feel/ From puncture of your polished steel.” Beginning in 1805 the house at Harmony Grove served as headquarters of the Farmers Library of Londongrove, with John Jackson serving as its secretary. One young neighbor, Ezra Michener (1804–1887,) began his botanical education there in 1810 under Jackson’s tutelage, later recalling: “I generally found the librarian in his delightful garden. Seeing that I was interested in plants and flowers, he took pleasure in leading me around to see them, and in simple terms explained them to my understanding. In the library room it was the same; the windows had their blooming plants, the table was loaded with mineral and other specimens” ().
Jackson had just begun to devote himself to the garden full time, having turned over management of the Harmony Grove farm to his son William (1789–1864) when he came of age in 1810. Sharing his father’s interest in natural history, William maintained the botanic garden after inheriting the property in 1821. Twenty-eight years later William Darlington reported that the “highly interesting collection of plants” at Harmony Grove “is preserved in good condition.” It was reportedly William who planted evergreens and deciduous trees on the hill on the north side of the garden, creating a grove that was described as “flourishing” in 1878. A visitor in 1916 observed enormous cedar, yew, larch, and cypress, among other species. A map of 1847 indicates that William Jackson or another member of his family also operated an agricultural implement factory at Harmony Grove [Fig. 2].
William’s son Isaac (1829–1868) continued the family tradition of engagement in botany and horticulture. He had inherited his uncle William’s 100 acres of property on the western part of the estate in 1834. When he came of age in 1850, he established Harmony Grove Nurseries on thirty acres of that property, taking over the stock of the nurseryman Thomas M. Harvey. A Chester County map of 1860 bears a cluster of inscriptions (“Botanical Gardens,” “I. Jackson,” I. Jackson & Co.” and “Harmony Grove Botanical Garden & Nursery”) indicating the location of the commercial enterprise. Farther to the west, the three inscriptions reading “W. Jackson” indicate the location of the private botanic garden laid out by John Jackson, which then belonged to Isaac’s father William Jackson [Fig. 1]. Isaac Jackson’s partner in the nursery and garden business was his sister Elizabeth’s husband, Charles Dingee (1825–1912), who had earlier served as a horticultural apprentice to the noted nurseryman Edward Jessup of York, Pennsylvania. Two properties owned by Dingee appear on the 1860 map to the south of the Harmony Grove Botanic Garden & Nursery. In 1864 Isaac Jackson inherited the Harmony Grove property from his father, which was sold a few years later to Everard Conard (1814–1893), the husband of Isaac’s sister Mary. Following Isaac’s death in 1868, Charles Dingee entered into a partnership with Alfred Fellenberg Conard (1835–1906), a former employee of Thomas M. Harvey [Fig. 3]. The Harmony Grove Nursery of Dingee & Conard Co. became world famous for innovative propagation of roses and for pioneering the mail order plant business in America. Inscriptions on a Chester County map of 1873 indicate the location of “The Dingee & Conard Green Houses just to the south of Everard Conard’s property, no longer identified as including botanic gardens.
The Conard family retained ownership of the Harmony Grove estate into the late 19th century, preventing development of the property but also allowing dense foliage to overtake the garden. In 1878 it was reported that whereas very little of the flower garden remained, “many noble trees still attest his [John Jackson’s] care and skill.” In 1885 the seedsman Burnet Landreth (1842–1928) noted that John Jackson’s “plantings, in part, still stand as his monument.” By 1916 the greenhouse and spring house were reduced to a few moss-covered walls. The trees had “become too crowded for perfect development, and have more the appearance of forest trees, while the shrubbery and lesser plants and vines, now growing wild, give just a hint of what a tropical jungle might be.” Despite this, of the three important early botanic gardens in Pennsylvania—the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery, Humphry Marshall's garden at Marshallton, and the garden at Harmony Grove—the latter was judged to be in “the best state of preservation.”
- Jackson, John, March 30, 1789, letter to Humphry Marshall (Darlington 1849: 549–50) back up to History
- “I herewith send thy brush by the bearer, Caleb Harland, being the first opportunity. Mind not the cost until I see thee. I have this request to make, if thou pleases; to save me some seed of the Geranium, when ripe: also if thou couldst procure me a set or two of Rosemary, I should accept it as a favour, having lost mine the hard winter, and not got any since. Perhaps some slips set in the ground in season, would take root, and be safely moved towards fall.
- “I hope the public peace will add fresh life and vigour to every useful science that may tend to adorn and enrich our country: the propagation of plants being one, and much my delight. I take every help that I receive this way as a kindness.”
- “Where London Grove attracts the eye
- “With hills aspiring to the sky,
- “And meads forever green,
- “Prolific fields, luxuriant woods,
- “Enameled lawns and lucid floods,
- “Is found this lovely scene . . . .
- “In front of this [mansion] is widely spread,
- “With easy slope a fertile mead
- “Fair to the mid-day beam,
- “Which Flora’s showy robe bedecks,
- “And blushing flowers incline their necks
- “To sip the lucid stream.
- “A stream which now in surly mood
- “Foams o'er the rocks in yonder wood
- “Where hills abruptly rise;
- “Now with a gentle current moves,
- “Gives music to the neighboring groves,
- “And mirror to the skies.
- “Close on the left an orchard stands,
- “Where fruits from this and foreign lands,
- “Delicious sweets unfold . . . .
- “Near on the right a garden lies,
- “Basking beneath auspicious skies . . . .
- “There stately trees on high aspire,
- “Intent from Sol’s meridian fire
- “To shield the plants below;
- “Here others ope romantic glades,
- “Or wreathe their arms to form arcades
- “In many a circling row.
- “When drawn from far by beauties rare,
- “The sons of science here repair
- “These velvet walks to tread . . . .
- “When Taurus lends his genial power
- “To waken every vital flower
- “On Flora’s roseate bed,
- “Here, roused from long-enjoyed repose,
- “A thousand plants their sweets disclose
- “A thousand beauties spread.
- “Culled from each region of the globe,
- “Where Flora’s variegated robe
- “Is spread to mortal view . . . .
- “A ceaseless fount, in prospect clear,
- “Collects its healthy water here,
- “To form a mimic lake . . . .
- “Not far from this a spacious bower,
- “Enclosed with many a fragrant flower,
- “Adorns a lonely grove . . . .
- “A breeze which unremitted springs
- “From western climes on roseate wings,
- “The inmost seats assails,
- “Waves high in air the fragrant plumes,
- “With which the bower profusely blooms,
- “And scents the passing gales.
- “In this, still ready at command,
- “A desk, pen, ink and paper stand
- “For such as choose to write
- “Some brief encomiums on the place,
- “Its use, convenience, order, grace
- “That yields the most delight.
- “Short extracts here confus'dly lie
- “Names, dates, and ditties, catch the eye,
- “In uncouth manner penn'd;
- “A pithy phrase, a sentence strong,
- “A billet doux, a mournful song,
- “A farewell to a friend.
- “An aged sire with ceaseless care
- “This paradise of all that’s rare
- “With gentle scepter sways;
- “This order with just taste he plans,
- “And labors with assiduous hands,
- “Each infant plant he raise.”
- Baldwin, William, August 14, 1818, letter from Philadelphia to William Darlington (Darlington 1843: 278)
- “A few days ago I had an interesting visit from JOHN JACKSON. I am pretty certain he has, in his collection, some new plants. I will propose a scheme. Inform me, by letter, when you can spare the time, and I will (in my turn,) take you in my gig. . . to see this worthy old lover of Nature. Do strain a point, and let us go soon,—as he speaks of one fine plant which will soon be out of flower.”
- Baldwin, William, September 3, 1818, letter from Wilmington, Delaware to William Darlington (Darlington 1843: 280)
- “I have now for certain the Scirpus tenuis, of Muhl. As well as the capillaris,—both from JOHN JACKSON'S herbarium.”
- Baldwin, William, September 17, 1818, to William Darlington (Darlington 1843: 281)
- “My interview with [Zaccheus] COLLINS was as interesting as it was pleasing. . . . On presenting for his examination our Jacksonia, he had no hesitation in considering it a new genus—if an American plant: but, in his usual cautious manner, recommended omitting the publication of it until the ripe seed-vessel could be obtained; lest, possibly, it might be something exotic.”
- [William Darlington’s note:“The traditional history of this plant was, that it had been obtained, by the late HUMPHREY [sic] MARSHALL, from the mountains of Tennessee; and, supposing it to be a new genus, Dr. B. and myself had proposed to dedicate it to our estimable friend, JOHN JACKSON. But the characteristic caution of our friend COLLINS saved us from making a great blunder: for, on examining the plant in a more perfect state, I ascertained it to be the Saxifraga crassifolia, L.]
- Baldwin, William, March 14, 1819, letter to William Darlington (Darlington 1843: 305)
- “Yesterday I called upon S.W. CONRAD,—principally to urge his publishing MUHLENBERG'S Flora. . . . I must request you to relieve me a little in this business, by persuading some of our friends to take copies: such as JOHN JACKSON.”
- Village Record newspaper (West Chester, PA), January 16, 1822, biographical account of John Jackson back up to History
- “JOHN JACKSON, whose death was published in the last Record, was a native of Londongrove and was born where he died; his father was also born and died on the same plantation. His great grandfather was one of the earliest settlers in that neighborhood. There is something very pleasant in the idea, as it shows the general course of happiness and contentment that must have prevailed, to see the son succeeding to the father, generation after generation to the same farm; in eating the fruits planted by a father’s hand; In planting fruits with the expectation that they shall be enjoyed by our children, many tender and pleasing recollections and anticipations arise. The object of this notice was one who never courted the public gaze; nor was he ambitious of public business or honor; not that he thought it improper. He held in respect those who preferred public service, but his genius led him another way. A self taught botanist, he took delight in cultivating in his leisure hours a garden, which he stocked with a multitude of indigenous and foreign fruits and flowers. The taste grew with his years, and there are few who have not seen and admired or heard of and wished to see, the garden of JOHN JACKSON. At this time it has a greater variety of rare trees, plants, fruits and flowers than the celebrated garden of Humphry Marshall ever had. The orange and lemon trees are now bending with their golden honors; and as if in pride, yet blossoming for more. He was always an industrious man & in his latter years spent most of his time in his garden.”
- Anonymous, May 10, 1828, account of the botanical and horticultural activities of John and William Jackson, “Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science” (Register of Pennsylvania 1: 303) back up to History
- “The next garden in botanical importance [after Humphry Marshall’s Botanic Garden] is that founded by the late John Jackson, in the township of London-Grove. Mr. Jackson was a member of the Society of Friends: he was an excellent gardener, and a highly respectable botanist. He was born in London-Grove, the 9th of November, 1748, and died in the same township, the 20th of December, 1821. The garden was commenced in the year 1776 or 1777: it contains about an acre and a half of ground, and is located in a lime-stone valley of extraordinary beauty and fertility. A small green-house is attached to the place: a spring yielding an abundant supply of water, takes its rise near the centre of the garden, and affords an opportunity for the growth of aquatic plants, and some others, which delight in a humid soil. The place presents a numerous collection of foreign and indigenous plants of much interest to the student of botany. Mr. Jackson. . . also paid attention to mineralogy. His son, William Jackson, the present proprietor of the garden, inherits his father’s love for natural science, and employs himself in making gradual improvements in the establishment.
- Darlington, William, 1849, description of the botanical activities of John and William Jackson (1849: 22, 549–50) back up to History
- “The laudable example of HUMPHRY MARSHALL was not without its influence in the community where he resided. His friend and neighbour, the late estimable JOHN JACKSON, was endowed with a similar taste for the beauties of nature; and, in the year 1777, commenced a highly interesting collection of plants, at his residence in Londongrove, which is still preserved in good condition, by his son WILLIAM JACKSON, Esq . . . .
- “JOHN JACKSON, of Londongrove Township, Chester County, was one of the very few contemporaries of HUMPHRY MARSHALL, who sympathized cordially with his pursuits. He commenced a garden soon after that at Marshallton was established, and made a valuable collection of rare and ornamental plants; which is still preserved in good condition by his son, WILLIAM JACKSON, Esq. JOHN JACKSON, was a very successful cultivator of curious plants, a respectable botanist, and one of the most gentle and amiable men.”
- William J. Lewis, August 6, 1875, recalling visit of c. 1814–21 to his uncle’s estate, Harmony Grove (Jackson 1878: 16)
- “I recollect well my great uncles, John and William Jackson. The former took me, a little boy, through his grand garden, and showed me the beautiful flowers and trees gathered from every quarter of the globe. It was at that time, in regard to size and variety of plants, the second if not the first, on the American Continent.
- Mary W. Palmer, August 18, 1875, recalling visit of c. 1840 to her mothers’ childhood home, Harmony Grove (Jackson 1878: 17)
- “It must be thirty-five years since I last saw the dear old home . . . . The scent of the box in the early morning as we entered the garden, the music of the birds, the deep shade of the beautiful trees, the cool spring in the green-house, and the rare and lovely plants that in Summer used to be set around the pond—everything comes back to me.”
- Michener, Ezra, 1893, recalling visits to the botanical garden and library at Harmony Grove in 1811 (1893: 8–10) back up to History
- “It was at this critical period of my life that the Farmers' Library, of London Grove, was opened at the house of John Jackson, the botanist and florist. My father became a stockholder, and it naturally devolved upon me to obtain and return books.
- “Here I found an ample variety of most excellent reading, and, what was of scarcely less value to me, I generally found the librarian in his delightful garden. Seeing that I was interested in plants and flowers, he took pleasure in leading me around to see them, and in simple terms explained them to my understanding. In the library room it was the same; the windows had their blooming plants, the table was loaded with mineral and other specimens, while on the floor stood an electrical machine, and a Hand Jennie for roving and spinning cotton. The use of these the owner was ever ready to exhibit and explain. He was always ready, too, to advise and assist me in the choice of books. To me it seemed enchanted ground. Among the first books I read were Mungo Park’s Fables, Cook’s Voyage Around the World, and Darwin’s Botanic Garden . . . .
- “My innate fondness for plants and flowers was fostered and intensified by my frequent visits to Harmony Grove, but I did not find botanical books; indeed, there does not seem to have been any book on the subject for beginners, either written by an American, or printed in America for several years after. The library furnished Rees’s New Cyclopaedia in ninety-two half volumes, quarto. This work afforded a rich store of botanical knowledge. The genera were alphabetical with the known species following, but I could seldom stumble on the description of the plant before me; when I did so, I wrote down the botanical and common names until I had a respectable list. I also made a list of the scientific terms as they came under notice, with definitions. In this way I unconsciously begun a botanical dictionary for future study, a method of juvenile authorship, which I have practiced more or less during life.”
- Halliday Jackson, ed., Proceedings of the Sesqui-Centennial Gathering of the Descendants of Isaac and Ann Jackson: At Harmony Grove, Chester Co., Pa., Eighth Month, Twenty-Fifth, 1875: Together with the Family Genealogy (Philadelphia: Committee for the Jackson Family, 1878), 7–8, 24–26, view on Zotero.
- Jackson 1878, 48–51, view on Zotero; Ella Kent Barnard, “An Old Botanic Garden,” Journal of the Friends Historical Society 13 (1916): 18–19, view on Zotero.
- Jackson 1878, 60, view on Zotero.
- Jackson 1878, 8, 11, 61, view on Zotero.
- For Jackson’s correspondence in the Jackson-Conard Family Papers at Swarthmore, view website. See also Jackson 1878, 7–8, view on Zotero.
- William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), 22, 549–50, view on Zotero; Burnet Landreth, “Historical Notice of Other Early Agricultural Societies,” Agriculture of Pennsylvania: Containing Reports of the State Board of Agriculture . . . for 1885 in Agriculture of Pennsylvania: Containing Reports of the State Board of Agriculture . . . for 1885 (Harrisburg: Edwin K. Meyers, 1886), 9: 148, view on Zotero.
- The records of the Special Collections Department of the University of Delaware indicate that Jackson gave one of the albums to another amateur botanist, the Philadelphia surgeon and physician Dr. Francis Alison (1751–1813). For more information on Jackson’s albums at the University of Delaware, view website. For the herbarium, see Robert R. Gutowski, “Humphry Marshall’s Botanic Garden: Living Collections 1773–1813” (master’s thesis, University of Delaware, 1988), 148, view on Zotero. For Alison, see Anonymous, “Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science,” Register of Pennsylvania 1 (May 10, 1828): 303, view on Zotero.
- “Deaths,” The Village Record (January 16, 1822), posted by J. D. Thomas, Pennsylvania Genealogical Catalogue.
- Jackson 1878, 13, 50, view on Zotero.
- For this and other examples, see Jackson 1878, 45, view on Zotero.
- John Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope, History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, with Genealogical and Biographical Sketches (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), 310, view on Zotero.
- “Deaths,” January 16, 1822; Futhey and Cope 1881, 611, view on Zotero.
- Anonymous, May 10, 1828: 303, view on Zotero. For the mineralogical activities of John and William Jackson, see Isaac Lea, “An Account of the Minerals at Present Known to Exist in the Vicinity of Philadelphia,” Register of Pennsylvania 2 (July 1828): 18–23, view on Zotero; George W. Carpenter, “Mineralogical Notices,” Register of Pennsylvania 2 (August 1828): 84–88, view on Zotero.
- Darlington 1849, 22, view on Zotero.
- Jackson 1878, 8, view on Zotero.
- Barnard 1916, 18–19, view on Zotero.
- Thomas Meehan, “Catalogues & c.,” Illustrated Annual Register of Rural Affairs 1 (April 1, 1859): 60, view on Zotero; J. J. Thomas, “Nurseries in the United States: Supplements to Last Year’s Lists,” Illustrated Annual Register of Rural Affairs and Cultivator Almanac, for the Year 1858 1 (1858): 319, view on Zotero.
- “Obituary: Charles Dingee,” National Nurseryman 21 (January 1913): 24, view on Zotero; “Death of a Pioneer Mail Order Advertiser,” Agricultural Advertising 16 (January 1907): 66,view on Zotero.
- “Obituary: Charles Dingee,” January 1913: 24, view on Zotero; “The Late Charles Dingee,” Gardening 21 (January 1, 1913): 122, view on Zotero.
- Jackson 1878, 8, view on Zotero.
- Landreth 1886, 9: 148, view on Zotero.
- Barnard 1916, 16–18, view on Zotero.
- Darlington 1849, view on Zotero; Gutowski 1988, 97, view on Zotero.
- Jackson 1878, view on Zotero.
- William Baldwin, Reliquiae Baldwinianae: Selections from the Correspondence of the Late William Baldwin with Occasional Notes, and a Short Biographical Memoir, ed. William Darlington (Philadelphia: Kimber and Sharpless, 1843), view on Zotero.
- “Deaths,” January 16, 1822, Pennsylvania Genealogical Catalogue.
- Anonymous, May 10, 1828, view on Zotero.
- Ezra Michener, Autographical Notes from the Life and Letters of Ezra Michener, M.D. (Philadelphia: Friends Book Association, 1893, view on Zotero.