During World War I the strategic importance of food was reinforced over and over again. Both enemy and Allied forces sought to control the other’s food supply, and the entrance of the United States into the war in 1917 required securing even greater amounts of food for U.S. troops and Allied forces alike. President Woodrow Wilson established the United States Food Administration in 1917 and appointed Herbert Hoover to head the new agency. A national campaign–the first of its kind–was launched to promote home gardening, canning and food rationing. Emphasis was placed on growing crops that could be canned and stored, such as tomatoes. Crops not consumed at the local level would be preserved and shipped to Europe for both military consumption and humanitarian aid.
The residents of Greenwich took “doing their bit” for the war seriously. They established “war gardens” in backyards, on estates and even in public spaces and set up a Canning Kitchen where produce was processed for personal use, as well as for civilians in need and for troops. In 1917, canning centers were started in various sections of town to teach people how to put up their own produce. In fact, Holley Boarding House proprietress Constant MacRae, having gardened and canned what she grew for many years, taught canning classes at the Cos Cob School on “Thursdays at 2:00 p.m.”
This WWI war garden has been re-created using the 1918 diary of resident and Cos Cob art colony artist Elmer MacRae, preserved in the Historical Society’s William E. Finch, Jr. Library & Archives. The garden represents the kinds of crops the MacRaes would have grown during the war years from 1914–1919 to feed themselves and the patrons of their boarding house.
The Bush-Holley House is currently open to the public through guided tours. The house museum has a dual interpretation including documentation and presentation of two significant periods in the history of the house: the Colonial Period when the Bush family was in residence from 1790 to 1825 and the Cos Cob art colony from 1890 to 1920. Eight evocative, well-documented rooms tell a story of change over time, beginning with the turn of the century and moving backward in time to the Federal era.
Bush-Holley Historic Site is a member of the Connecticut Art Trail, a partnership of 15 world-class museums and historic sites across the state. Discover collections rich in history and heritage, including European masterpieces, American Impressionism, ancient art and contemporary culture. Visit www.arttrail.org for information about member museums.