An Overlooked and Abandoned Gift

of Johns Hopkins to Baltimore:

The Contents of the Conservatory

at Clifton Park, 1851-1915[1]

Since his death on Christmas Eve, 1873, not all of Johns Hopkins’s intended gifts to Baltimore and the world have been maintained by succeeding generations of trustees and park officials including a conservatory at Clifton filled with exotic plants.

On Johns Hopkins’s  birthday, May 19,  it is appropriate to remember his interest in making Clifton into a garden estate for the maintenance of his and his family’s health as well as their enjoyment, benefits he believed important for a University setting he intended to be Johns Hopkins University.

 

Conservatory and Gardener’s Cottage at Clifton ca. 1910?, courtesy of Vincent Greene Architects (http://vgarchitect.com/cgcver1/)

The centerpiece of his garden estate was his conservatory attached to the Gardener’s Cottage  which was described in a February 5,1852 Baltimore Sun article:

… it would be unjust not to render a passing tribute to the admirable, extensive, and valuable conservatories and general out buildings of the place. The former contains exotic plants and fruit of surpassing excellence, even superior to those of foreign countries in flavor and size, whilst the floral departments may be viewed as an extensive and inviting horticultural exhibition, well repaying the time expended in a visit.[2]

James Bready Collection of Postcards, Maryland State Archives, msa_sc6011_2_1

As the National Register of Historic Places entry for Clifton Park pointed out,

Tall cypress trees, some of which remain today, stood to either side of a lane leading to the cottage from the east.  One ended up viewing the conservatory prior to seeing the [gardener’s] cottage itself. On the north side of the lane were boxwood bushes and four statues…

In 1908, “Autumn?”  was still Present at Clifton, but  all are now gone from the garden.

 This maiden is modestly clothed as you might expect from a wealthy Quaker, unlike

any one of the typical “Four Seasons”  in other garden settings or available at auction.[3]

The statues represented the four seasons and stood on two foot pedestals positioned at 15-20 foot intervals.  “Spring was the form of a young maiden; “Summer was a youth; “Autumn” was a mature woman; and “Winter” was a bearded old man.[4]

Conservatory on the 1874 Martenet map prepared for the trustees, courtesy of S. J. Martenet & Co., Inc.

What inspired Johns Hopkins to build the conservatory and to fill it with exotic plants and flowers is not known for certain, but it is probable that he was first influenced by the visit in 1838 of an affluent Quaker banker and prominent Orthodox Quaker preacher from Norwich, England  by the name of Joseph John Gurney.[5]  Undoubtedly he was also motivated by the death of his brother, and by his sisters who sent back glowing accounts of Dr. Edward Finlay’s plantation where a number of Americans, including Johns Hopkins’s brother-in-law, went to recover their health.  Perhaps even his own brush with death by cholera had something to do with his desire to create a space at home where nature could sustain and restore his own and his family’s health.

Joseph John Gurney’s estate in Norwich[6]

It is likely that the failure of his brother Philip to recover his health in Cuba and the enthusiastic description by his sister Sarah in 1844 of the restful beauty of Dr. Finlay’s coffee plantation 42 miles or so from Havana inspired the instructions John Hopkins gave for what to grow in the conservatory.[7]   

Sadly, there is no detailed inventory of Johns Hopkins’s library at Clifton or his townhouse on Saratoga Street.  If there were, it is likely that he had a copy of Voltaire’s Candide (1759)  and his earlier Lettres Philosophiques (1734).  Voltaire had great admiration for English Quakers as did the Hopkins family,  and Candide offered reflection that Johns Hopkins would have found both relevant and instructive:  To quote from Voltaire: “but let us cultivate our garden.”[8]

For the most part what books Johns Hopkins owned or read remain a mystery, but what he planted in his garden and raised in his conservatory is known. Sadly the Conservatory was demolished by the City in 1915. However, there is a detailed appraisal inventory of the contents of the Conservatory made in January 1874 which has only recently been discovered during a study of how Johns Hopkins acquired his wealth.

1874 inventory of the Conservatory (Green House No. 1)[9]

detail from 1874 inventory of the Conservatory

Perhaps one day the Conservatory and its contents will be restored.   In the meantime, what could be a more appropriate gift to Clifton  in his memory on his birthday  than a planting of the most valuable of the flowers in his Conservatory, the Camellia Japonica.[10]

https://www.gardenia.net/plant-variety/camellias-japonica   


[1]©Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland State Archivist, retired

[2] The manager of the park and grounds, Mr. William Waddel, an old and experienced horticulturist, has exhibited very rare skill in the management of these valuable plants and fruits, all of which are in the very best condition. It may be worthy of mention that the proprietor has spared no means in the improvement of this great residence, the appearance of which as well as the grounds, evidences the skill and ability of Baltimore mechanics, and foreign artists. The production of the latter may be seen in the hundred beautiful specimens of marble statuary and sculpture which are observed from every point. The following persons aided on the improvements: H.J. Bayley, carpenter; James Murray, brick layer; Jas. Sullivan, painter; Andrew Merker,*** iron worker; John Rothrock, roofing; Bevan & Sons, stonework; Hayward, Bartlett & Co. plumbing; S. W & H. T Gernhardt, glass stainers; George W. Starr, plasterer, transcription by Sydney Van Morgan on her excellent blog, https://www.thehouseofhopkins.com/posts/11-clifton-park

[3] https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-5641088

[4]https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/PDF/NR_PDFs/NR-1444.pdf

[5]See: https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=Gurney%2C%20Joseph%20John%2C%201788%2D1847 for a bibliography of Gurney’s online works and especially his published letters to Amelia Opie, https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006577975.  Gurney’s unpublished journal is currently being edited by the author.  Gurney not only influenced Johns Hopkins, but also Francis T. King, who accompanied him on part of his journeys and was picked by Johns Hopkins in 1867 to be one of his trustees. See: https://aspace.library.jhu.edu/repositories/3/resources/317.

[6] see original from which the carte de visite was copied at:  https://www.sainsburycentre.ac.uk/art-and-objects/41407-earlham-hall/.  Gurney stayed with the parents of Francis T. King, an Orthodox Quaker chosen by Johns Hopkins in 1867 to be one of his trustees and served as chairman until his death in 1891. See: https://aspace.library.jhu.edu/repositories/3/resources/317

[7] [February 3, 1844]

We are still at Dr. Finleys [Finlay’s] Estate about 42 Miles

from Havannah, it is called  the Garden of Cuba

and a more delightful spot it would be difficult

to imagine [[extra m in immagine crossed out]].  

The atmosphere is balmy and serene

The thermometer in the morning and evening 72 at  

noon 76 at nine to ten AM the refreshing trade wind

sets in from the east and continues blowing until

Sunset … The estate is a level plain of

about 500 Acres & is laid out with consumate taste

immediately in front of the door is a neat garden

embellished with the flower bearing plants  of the country

proceeding thence to the main road  is an Avenue

of magnificent [[second f in magnifficent is cross out]] palms

40 feet wide & quarter of a mile long. In the rear and on each side of the

House, are similar avenues, of Mango trees, which being

tall of  desc foliage and interlacing there [[cross out]] foliage [[/cross out]]

branches at the top form a shade impenetrable to the sun, around us grows

the Coffee tree, the staple product of the establishment,  

the monsterous leaf of the  Plantin or Banana tree ( 4 to 6 feet

long by 2 feet wide) rustles in our ears, while numerious  

Orange trees burdened with there goalden fruit  glitter

in the sun and scatter  there neglected  treasures in profusion

to waste and rot  in heaps upon the ground, at half

past nine we breakfast, then we amuse ourselves by walking

riding reading conversation && at half past three we

dine at half past  eight we Sup and at half past ten

we retire.    We are still at Dr. Finleys Estate about 42 Miles

from Havannah, it is called  the Garden of Cuba

and a more delightful spot it would be difficult

to imagine [[extra m in immagine crossed out]].  The atmosphere is balmy and serene

The thermometer in the morning and evening 72 at  

noon 76 at nine to ten AM the refreshing trade wind

sets in from the east and continues blowing until

Sunset,  … The estate is a level plain of

about 500 Acres & is laid out with consumate taste

immediately in front of the door is a neat garden

embellished with the flower bearing plants  of the

country, proceeding thence to the main road  is an Avenue

of magnificent [[second f in magnifficent is cross out]] palms 40 feet wide & quarter

of a mile long. In the rear and on each side of the

House, are similar avenues, of Mango trees, which being

tall of  desc foliage and interlacing there [[cross out]] foliage [[/cross out]] branches at the

top form a shade impenetrable to the sun, around us grows

the Coffee tree, the staple product of the establishment,  

the monsterous leaf of the  Plantin or Banana tree ( 4 to 6 feet

long by 2 feet wide) rustles in our ears, while numerious  

Orange trees burdened with there goalden fruit  glitter

in the sun and scatter  there neglected  treasures in profusion

to waste and rot  in heaps upon the ground, at half

past nine we breakfast, then we amuse ourselves by walking

riding reading conversation && at half past three we

dine at half past  eight we Sup and at half past ten

we retire. 

Letter from Sarah H. Janney to her sister Mary R. Congdon and Gilbert Congdon, February 3, 1844, The Johns Hopkins Chesney Archives. Dr. Edward Finlay and his son Carlos were pioneers in the treating and explaining the causes of Yellow Fever.  Carlos, who received his medical training in Philadelphia, never  received the Nobel Prize he deserved  for his work on Yellow Fever. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Carlos-J-Finlay 

[8]Pangloss used now and then to say to Candide: “There is a concatenation of all events in the best of possible worlds; for, in short, had you not been kicked out of a fine castle for the love of Miss Cunegund; had you not been put into the Inquisition; had you not traveled over America on foot; had you not run the Baron through the body; and had you not lost all your sheep, which you brought from the good country of El Dorado, you would not have been here to eat preserved citrons and pistachio nuts.” “Excellently observed,” answered Candide: “but let us cultivate our garden.    https://archive.org/details/CandideFranoisMarieArouetAkaVoltaire/page/n101/mode/2up There was the breakup with Elizabeth, his mother’s admonishing letters,  the financial crisis of 1837, his brother’s refusal to give up his slaves, and the departure of   his first gardener who may have employed the four slaves who made it on to the 1850 census of Clifton?  

[9] Baltimore County Register of Wills (Inventories), OPM 11, 1873-1874, ff. 596-598.

[10] a gift from the authors of the  award winning A Maryland Mystery, recipient of the Joseph L. Arnold Prize for Outstanding Writing on Baltimore’s History