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History of Early American Landscape Design

Harmony Grove

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Harmony Grove, an estate in London Grove Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, was the site of a botanic garden established by the amateur botanist John Jackson in the mid 1770s and preserved by successive generations of his family, several of whom shared an interest in botany.

Overview

Alternate Names: West Grove
Site Dates:1725-1849
Site Owner: Isaac Jackson; William Jackson; John Jackson; William Jackson; Isaac Jackson; Everard Conard
Site Designer(s): John Jackson
Location: View on Google maps


History

Shortly after emigrating from Ireland to Pennsylvania, the Quakers Ann (1677-1732) and Isaac Jackson (1665-1750) 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 had two sources of water: a natural spring on a hillside and a stream that fed into a branch of White Clay Creek.[1] 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. By his will, he divided the property between his two younger sons, giving the western portion to William (1746-1834) and the eastern portion, including the house and spring, to John (1748-1821).[2]

Some years earlier, around the time of the Revolution, John Jackson established a botanic garden at Harmony Grove on an acre and a half of flat ground that backed up to hills to the north and west of the house. The anonymous author of an article published in a local newspaper in 1822 claimed that the botanic garden at Harmony Grove, "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 Marsall ever had." He added, "there are few who have not seen and admired or heard of and wished to see, the garden of JOHN JACKSON" (view text).


John Jackson became known for his hospitality and for the large collection of garden of indigenous and exotic trees, shrubs, and plants that he obtained through botanical exchange and purchase.[3] Among his suppliers was Humphry Marshall, whose botanic garden in nearby Marshallton reportedly provided a model for Jackson (view text). The collection of John Jackson's papers at Swarthmore College includes correspondence on the exchange of plants and several albums and lists of plant materials. Two albums containing specimens of dried and pressed plants and wild flowers, which Jackson assembled at Harmony Grove between 1810 and 1819 are in the Special Collections Department of the University of Delaware.[4]

Within the garden Jackson erected a building, one half of which was a greenhouse with an upstairs room for drying and storing seeds.[5] The other half of the building was a "quaint spring house" and dairy. An account of the garden published in 1878 noted that Jackson water from the spring flowed underground through the spring house and "collected in a square pond, which, with its diminutive outlet, furnished localities suited to the culture of aquatic plants."[6]

In verses describing Harmony Grove, composed in 1813, John Jackson's friend Thomas Peirce, noted that within the garden "A desk, pen, ink and paper stand/For such as choose to write/Some brief encomiums on the place.../Short extracts here confus'dly lie/Names, dates, and ditties, catch the eye, /In uncouth manner penn'd."[7] 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."[8] Jackson's youngest son, William Jackson (1789-1864), shared his father's interest in botany and horticulture, and after inheriting Harmony Grove in 1821, he reportedly "planted the hill rising on the north of the garden, with evergreens and deciduous trees, which now [in 1878] form a flourishing grove."[9]

In 1821 John Jackson's son William (1789-1864) inherited Harmony Grove. An article on the "Chester County Cabinet of Natural Sciences," published in 1828, noted that he also "inherits his father's love for natural science, and employs himself in making gradual improvements in the establishment" at Harmony Grove (view text). John Jackson's friend, William Darlington confirmed this report twenty years later, noting that the "highly interesting collection of plants" "is still preserved in good condition" by William.(view text) William Jackson also shared his father's interest in mineralogy.[10]

William's son Isaac (1829-1868) was apparently even more fascinated by botany and horticulture than his father and grandfather. In 1850 he established Harmony Grove Nurseries on thirty acres of land in West Grove, taking over the stock of the nurseryman Thomas M. Harvey. He entered into partnership with his sister Elizabeth's brother Charles Dingee (1825-1912), who had earlier served as a horticultural apprentice to the noted nurseryman Edward Jessup of York, Pennsylvania.[11] In 1864 William Jackson bequeathed the Harmony Grove property to Isaac, who had already inherited 100 acres of the western portion from his uncle William, thus reuniting much of the original estate. A few years later, Harmony Grove was sold 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.[12] The firm of Dingee & Conard Co. pioneered the mail order rose business in America and the system of shipping roses by mail, so that "the West Grove plants are known in every quarter of the civilized world.”[13]

The Conard family retained ownership of the property into the late nineteenth century, but by then signs of the botanic garden were all but lost in a dense glade of trees. In 1878 it was reported that whereas very little of the flower garden remained, "many noble trees still attest his [Jackson's] care and skill."[14]


--Robyn Asleson

Texts

“I herewith send they 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."


  • Thomas Peirce, May 14, 1813, poem about Harmony Grove [16]
"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."


  • The Village Record newspaper (West Chester, Pa.), January 16, 1822, biographical account of John Jackson [17] 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 Humphrey 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, 1828, account of the botanical and horticultural activities of John and William Jackson ("Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science," 1828: 303[18]
"The next garden in botanical importance [after that of Humphry Marshall] 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)[19]
"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 contemporaries of HUMPHREY 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[20]
"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[21]
"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."

Images

References

Jackson-Conard Family Papers, 1748-1910, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College

John Jackson albums of specimens of dried flowers and plants, ca. 1810-1819, University of Delaware Library

Notes

  1. Jackson, 7-8, 24-25
  2. Jackson, 1878, 26
  3. 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, view on Zotero.
  4. According to the University's records, Jackson gave one of the albums to another amateur botanist, the Philadelphia surgeon and physician Dr. Francis Alison (1751-1813). For Alison, see "Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science," The Register of Pennsylvania, 1 (May 10, 1828), 303, view on Zotero.
  5. Jackson, 1878, 11,
  6. 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), 8, view on Zotero.
  7. Jackson, 1878, 13, 50
  8. For this and other examples, see Jackson, 1878, 45,
  9. 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), 8, view on Zotero.
  10. 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,” The Register of Pennsylvania, 2 (1828): 18-23, view on Zotero; George W. Carpenter, “Mineralogical Notices,” The Register of Pennsylvania, 2 (August 1828): 84–88, view on Zotero.
  11. Thomas Meehan, "Catalogues & c.," The 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," The Illustrated Annual Register of Rural Affairs and Cultivator Almanac, for the Year 1858, 1 (1858): 319, view on Zotero.
  12. >"Obituary: Charles Dingee," The 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.
  13. "Obituary: Charles Dingee," The National Nurseryman, 21 (January 1913): 24, view on Zotero; "The Late Charles Dingee," Gardening, 21 (January 1, 1913): 122, view on Zotero.
  14. 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), 8, view on Zotero.
  15. Darlington
  16. Jackson,
  17. "Deaths," The Village Record (January 16, 1822), posted by J. D. Thomas, http://www.accessible-archives.com/2012/12/the-pennsylvania-genealogical-catalogue-1822/#ixzz3r66Db4dt Accessed 11/10/2015
  18. "Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science," The Register of Pennsylvania, 1 (1828), view on Zotero
  19. Darlington
  20. Jackson, 1878, 16
  21. Jackson, 1878, 17

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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Harmony Grove," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Harmony_Grove&oldid=15192 (accessed September 20, 2021).

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