Part of a Research, Reachout & Restore series on historic and cultural landscapes
A century after the start of the First World War and 53 years since The Guns of August was published, the garden where Barbara Tuchman wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning work reveals itself.
Barbara Tuchman’s daughter once mentioned the garden to me in passing, recalling a Japanese maple—or was it a weeping cherry, with layered limbs cascading over stone walls onto the smooth surface of the pond? It was her grandfather’s, Maurice Wertheim’s, garden. This frugal recollection, like a grudging haiku, conjured an elegant landscape. I couldn’t shake it.
Since our conversation many years ago, I pieced together the few threads and clues that I remembered. Earlier this spring, I finally found the elusive garden and learned about its storied past. It remains extant, albeit threadbare. Originally it was the property of Ernest Thompson Seton, a wealthy naturalist and Englishman who bought up six old farmsteads in the village of Cos Cob, Connecticut, creating his country estate in 1900 and naming it Wyndygoul, Scottish for windy glen.
Centennials are occasions upon which to reflect and bestow honor. This year, the American Society of Landscape Architects has an important, historic event to observe—the centenary of Edward Lawson, FASLA, winning the prestigious Rome Prize in Landscape Architecture at the American Academy in Rome in 1915. Lawson was the first landscape architect to win the coveted prize, which was sponsored by ASLA. It was a turning point for the profession as well as for this newly-minted Cornell graduate.
At the July meeting of the Potomac Chapter of ASLA, Brett Wallace, ASLA, and Shawn Balon, ASLA, of the Executive Committee endorsed the proclamation submitted by James O’Day, ASLA, the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) Chapter Liaison, to recognize the achievements and historic importance of Lawson’s ASLA-sponsored fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.
The presence of Lawson at the academy was a coup de main for ASLA. After years of striving, the nascent and evolving profession would be accorded the same recognition that its “sister” arts—architecture, painting and sculpture—had enjoyed since the academy’s inception in 1894. The new fellowship in landscape architecture made it possible for young professionals to join the collaborative dialogue that was shaping city planning and urban design.
In 2009 while researching at the American Academy in Rome, I came upon a cache of images in the Academy’s Photographic Archive. The photographs were diminutive, measuring only 2×3 inches, but the subject matter was colossal—the gardens of the Italian Renaissance. I had serendipitously discovered a collection of nine hundred photographs taken in the early 20th century. I learned that these photographs had originally been known as the “Lawson Collection” and had been reference material in the Academy’s library. The work was attributed to Ralph Griswold, Henry V. Hubbard, Richard Webel, and Edward Lawson. Most of these names were stalwarts of American landscape architecture and easily recognizable with the exception of one—Lawson. I wondered about the mysterious and little-known Lawson—who was he and why had this collection been named after him? Surely, he must have had some prominence. This is where my research and journey began.