Historic Butler McCook Garden

Hartford, CT, United States
Est. 209m / 4 mins

Historic Butler McCook Garden - Cya On The Road

Like the house which stands on Main Street, the Butler-McCook Garden represents the evolution of the landscape from the colonial era in Hartford to the mid-20th century. Blending earlier utilitarian landscape components with more formal aspects of Victorian garden design, the garden also includes naturalistic elements and concessions to modernity. The land of the Butler-McCook House & Garden was part of that assigned to Andrew Bacon in the Original Distribution of Lands in Hartford. Early town records point out the area was “sowen with English Grasse” and notable for its fine fruit trees.  The Butler-McCook property is comprised of four parcels. Daniel Butler purchased the earliest section where the house sits in 1782 from Will Hooker, a butcher and blacksmith, and, prior to archaeological work, family legend had it that the old kitchen ell was part of a forge, possibly dating to the early 1700s (this belief has been refuted). John Butler, who inherited the property upon the death of his father Daniel in 1812, acquired an adjoining lot to the south of the house which was once seized from a Tory, James Read, at the time of the Revolution.  This section is now where the doctor’s office addition and garden entry from Main Street sit today. John Butler later purchased two additional pieces of land at the east end of the property along South Prospect Street from his neighbor David Robinson. By 1840--but most likely far earlier--a central path began at the back door and led east, passing through a rose arbor to a vegetable garden, strawberry patch and summer house at the rear of the property.  Eliza Royse Butler, wife of John Butler, had a pit greenhouse constructed on the property around 1850. In 1856, she departed for Europe with her daughters Eliza Butler and Mary Sheldon. When Eliza and Mary returned to Hartford in 1859, sadly without their mother who had passed away on the sojourn, they soon began to make improvements upon their family land.As a retreat from an increasingly industrial city, Eliza and Mary commissioned Swiss landscape architect Jacob Weidenmann (1829-93) to create a garden design in 1865. The genesis for the plan may have begun on their Grand Tour of Europe. They desired a formal parterre like those they had admired in Europe in their own backyard. Weidenmann had recently finished designing Hartford’s Bushnell Park and was considered to be one of the country’s most prominent landscape architects when he was hired for $600—a fee equivalent to his annual salary at the park. He divided the yard into a pleasure ground and garden near the house, with utilitarian needs relegated to less visible areas. The pleasure ground, with the fountain as its focal point, featured a meandering walkway informally planted with trees and shrubs. The extant central walkway was retained while rectilinear beds devoted to vegetables, which once lined both sides, eventually gave way to a lawn used for tennis, croquet and archery in the 1880s, as the seven children of Eliza Butler and John James McCook, who married in 1866, needed space for recreation.Although the spirit of Weidenmann’s plan is evident in the garden, his original design was either never fully implemented by the Butler-McCook family or was modified over the next century. A rustic pavilion and seat in the garden’s northeast corner never came to fruition, nor did a walking path in southeast quadrant.  As the family grew and moved on, siblings Frances and Anson, the last McCooks living in the house maintained the garden. They decided to leave the property in the care of the Antiquarian & Landmark Society (now Connecticut Landmarks). Frances consulted landscape designers Holly Stevenson and Mary Edwards, producing a plan to rehabilitate the garden and making concessions for public use, which was completed in 1971.The West Hartford Garden Club became involved with the Butler-McCook Garden in 1996 to help with restoration.  Their members continue volunteer in the on-going restoration and maintenance of the garden, donating time, expertise, plants and funds to preserve this lovely oasis in Hartford.

by Butler McCook House & Garden
The Butler-McCook House (1782) is the oldest remaining house in Hartford and now a museum documenting life in Hartford for two centuries.

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