Greenwich Historical Society to Restore and Expand Impressionist Era Gardens

We are excited to announce a new grant from the local garden club Hortulus to enable the restoration of the ornamental flower gardens, kitchen gardens, and grape arbor as part of the overall master plan for the Greenwich Historical Society’s dramatic campus transformation. The artist colony Impressionist period gardens of the National Historic Landmark Bush-Holley House provide critical interpretive information for visitors, as they convey both daily life routines (growing food provisions for the residents), as well as inspiring many subjects in the plein-air painters’ tableaux.When the reimagined campus opens in fall 2018, garden improvements will include relocation and expansion of the Impressionist-era fruit and vegetable garden that supported the Holley boarding house and the creation of a new Impressionist-era perennial flower garden along both sides of the walkway that will link the new building to Bush-Holley House and the Vanderbilt Education Center. The current grape arbor will also be replaced with a more durable structure to support the existing grape vines, some of which are 120 years old.

In producing these historical gardens plans, the Society is collaborating with design consultants, Greenwich-based landscape architecture firm Conte & Conte, LLC, and the award-winning historic preservation architectural firm David Scott Parker Architects.

In generating the planting plan, Conte & Conte, which has experience working with historical landscape projects, carefully examined the historical primary and secondary sources (including Garden Calendar of Holley House proprietors Elmer and Constant MacRae for the years 1918-1919 and the additional information compiled in the Historic Landscape Report: Bush-Holley House, Storehouse and Brush Properties, 1996).  For the grape arbor reconstruction drawings, David Scott Parker Architects carefully examined all physical and documentary evidence.

For the technical and careful installation of these historical landscape features, Fairfield House & Garden Company, which is the sister construction company of Conte & Conte, has been selected to carry out the work. The firm has the particular skill combination of working with sensitive landscapes as well as vast experience in the realm of sustaining the appearance of such types of gardens over time. In addition, the firm’s owners, John and Kim Conte, hold a personal interest in the success of the Society’s vision as both of their families have resided in Greenwich since the artist colony was established.

During the 30-year period from 1890 to 1920, Cos Cob and the Holley House (now Bush-Holley House) became the setting for Connecticut’s first art colony. Today, Bush-Holley House visitors can view works by Impressionist artists depicting the house and gardens.

The generous Hortulus grant will enable the Greenwich Historical Society to further its mission and long-term vision for preserving and presenting local history and art in a dynamic and beautiful site dedicated to lifetime learning, connecting us to our past and each other.

About Hortulus

Founded in 1930 and a member of The Garden Club of America, Hortulus’ mission is “to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening and creative design; to protect, restore, and improve the quality of the environment through education, programs and action in the fields of conservation and civic improvement.”

Hortulus hosts flower shows, garden trips, workshops, and lectures, and has a long tradition of civic service. The club’s contributions include landscaping at Greenwich Library, The Mews, and the YWCA as well as grants to Nathaniel Witherell, the Greenwich Land Trust, Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, Bruce Park, the Garden Education Center, and Greenwich Audubon. Hortulus and the Greenwich Historical Society have a long-standing relationship dating back to the Hortulus Conservation Award designed by Bush-Holley House proprietor Elmer MacRae in 1945.

Greenwich Historical Society’s Campus Reimagining

Greenwich Historical Society is in the home stretch of its Reimagine the Campus Campaign, a bold and ambitious initiative that will expand and provide better access to its facilities, and enrich its education and preservation programs. The visionary plan will enable the Historical Society to advance its mission by making a greater contribution to the cultural life of Greenwich and surrounding areas, while ensuring the preservation of its historic buildings and grounds for the future.

The new building will have a glass lobby, two state-of-the-art exhibition halls to showcase the permanent art and history collections, an expanded research library and archives, museum store, and café. The reimagined campus will welcome the community with more than double the parking and provides universal access to the entire site, including an elevator. It will enable more dynamic programming and experiences for bringing Greenwich history alive to a larger audience.

Valentine’s Day Letter 1898

Valentine's Day card Below is a transcription of the letter in the photographs published here from artist Elmer MacRae to Constant Holley, dated February 14, 1898. MacRae was an artist, and boarder at the Holley House, which Constant helped run with her parents. Elmer and Constant fell in love, married in 1900, had twin girls in 1904, and ran the boarding house together.

Our curator Karen Frederick described the letters as such in a recent article in The New York Times: “Their letters are so lovey-dovey I can only stand reading them for a little while.”  🙂

Valentine's Day letter 1898 page 1

February 14, 1898 letter page 2Holley-MacRae Family Papers Box 6/96

Monday before dinner

[New York, February 14, 1898]

My darling Constant—

Monday and Tuesday have come and gone!—Saturday will soon come, my precious, then will we see each other again, and have each other for some time; until Saturday darling we must try to be patient and make the best of our time, so that by doing this each week, it will shorten the time when we can see each other and have each other for good and all time!

Sweet girl, you pass the time doing good to everybody when the opportunity offers, by making something pretty or whatever you might choose to improve your timing (Ed. ?), anything shall; keep occupied darling, and in this way the days, between our being together, won’t seem so long. There is hardly much use of me telling you this, sweetheart, I know you are always busy, always useful, always putting your time to some good account, but in this way I find the time isn’t quite so hard to bear.

In doing this both together, we are building the foundation stones of our union upon something solid. By that time we will be able, if necessity calls, to stand separation or any trial that might possibly come to us.

It will make us better men and better women.

Our beautiful and all powerful love, my darling, will carry us through everything and crown us with success and happiness to the end.

You sweet, loving girl, I worship and adore you—you’re my own true love!

Elmer sends his love to enrich her and stay by her all the time during his absence, and loves her constant companion wherever she goes or where she is.

Let me kiss you darling and put my arms around you—

[6 circles of kisses]

Greenwich Historical Society. Holley/MacRae Family Papers, Box 25, Folder 245. Elmer and Constant MacRae, Anniversary 1950
Elmer and Constant MacRae, fiftieth wedding anniversary, 1950

Bush-Holley House by Candlelight 2016

Some photos from our wonderful annual event, held December 11. Kids got quality time with Santa and made holiday crafts, guests took tours of Bush-Holley House decorated for the holidays, and all enjoyed great music, tasty treats, and good cheer. And it was all free!

Bush-Holley House at Christmastime

‘Tis the season! Photos of the Greenwich Historical Society campus decorated for the holidays:

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Christmas garland on the porch of Bush-Holley House

 

Cardinal decorationBush-Holley House Interior Decorated for the Holidays

Every December, Bush-Holley House is decorated in a historically accurate way with an ornamented tree, fir garlands, and stockings by the fireplace.

Christmas was not widely celebrated during the Bush family years as Puritans considered Christmas traditions derived from pagan rituals. By the time the Holleys occupied the house though, Christmas traditions included a tree, visiting friends and family, presents, and special meals. 

 

What is now called Bush-Holley House was built in stages starting ca.1730. Beginning in 1738 the house was owned by the Bush (Dutch, originally Bosch; no relation to the political Bushes) family.

Its life as a boardinghouse began in 1848 when the now much-expanded home passed out of the Bush family. Josephine and Edward Holley operated it as a boardinghouse for artists and writers beginning in 1882 and passed it to their daughter Constant Holley following her marriage to the artist Elmer MacRae in 1900.

Christmas was popularized starting with the publication of Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” in 1822 and later with a photo of Queen Victoria and her family around a table-top Christmas tree in 1847. As the 19th century came to a close, it was becoming more common for trees to be full size with all the trimmings rather than small table-top displays.

Christmas 1910 at Bush-Holley House, with MacRae twins Clarissa and Constant, daughters of Constant Holley and artist Elmer MacRae

Living at the Holley house in 1910 were Constant (age 39) and Elmer (age 35); their twin daughters, Clarissa and Constant (age 6); Constant’s parents, Edward P. Holley (age 72) and Josephine (age 61); Sally Hudson (age 26), an African-American servant; and, according to the 1910 census, two roomers—Isabel Fowler (age 44) and Carolyn Mase (age 42).

Antique Christmas card in the collections of the Greenwich Historical Society’s William E. Finch, Jr., Archives