Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Robert Douglas Horticultural Heritage
When I looked at the slides last week, wanting to share them as springtime inspiration in this blog, I recalled that G.D. Clarke had not been researched. There are a number of individuals in our records who need to be researched to further our understanding of their lives and items they donated, and writing this blog gives me a chance to do that. So, I set to work with my research, and was surprised by an interesting discovery.
The donor of the slides was Mrs. Elam Lewis Clarke. Since the slides were made circa 1910, I looked in early Waukegan city directories, and found listed Elam L. Clarke (lawyer) and his wife, Georgia D, living at 740 N. Sheridan Road, Waukegan. This answered my initial question—"G.D. Clarke" was Georgia D. Clarke (1871 - 1952). Elam Clarke, by the way, was the son of Lt. Colonel Isaac Clarke (1824-1863), hero of the 96th Illinois Regiment.
Next, I looked up Elam Clarke in the census, using Ancestry.com and Family Search. Within minutes I made another remarkable discovery—Georgia's maiden name was Douglas. I didn't want to get ahead of myself, but wondered if she could be related to the nationally known nurseryman, Robert Douglas of Waukegan. Considering that some of the subject matter of her slides were pine trees planted by Robert Douglas, it seemed likely. Sure enough, more census research confirmed that Georgia D. Clarke was in fact Robert Douglas's granddaughter.
Georgia Douglas Clarke photographed these White Pines on the Dead River, Zion, circa 1910 (above). They were planted by her grandfather, Robert Douglas, in the late 1800s, in what is today's Illinois Beach State Park. LCDM 93.32.361
Robert Douglas (1813 - 1897) started his nursery business in Waukegan in 1848, and within thirty years became the largest grower of pines and spruces in the United States. Douglas began the Lake County Fair as an arbor and floral exhibit at the courthouse around 1849. This project turned into the Lake County Agricultural Society, and then into the Lake County Fair Association, which held the first county fair in 1852.
Douglas bought sapling pines from Europe and planted them in the sandy soil north of Waukegan along Lake Michigan (today's Illinois State Beach Park). The land was cheap, and Douglas thought the soil would be good for growing. Some of the saplings were from the Black Forest of Germany, and their descendants can still be seen near the lakeshore at the state park.
"Prickly Pear Cactus" by G.D. Clarke, circa 1910. Photo taken in what is today the Illinois Beach State Park. LCDM 93.32.355.
Douglas's extensive mail-order business brought him national recognition. In 1896, the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina (home to George Vanderbilt) purchased a large quantity of Douglas's evergreen stock.
"Peony Field" at 703 N. Sheridan Road, Waukegan, by G.D. Clarke, circa 1910. LCDM 93.32.387
The beautiful peony garden above was located down the bluff on Sheridan Road at Grand Avenue. The view is looking south with a potting shed in the background at left and a gas storage tank at right. As early as 1861, this area was designated on plat maps as "Greenhouses," and Grand Avenue did not run east of Sheridan Road until well into the 20th Century.
In the city directory, Georgia Clarke is listed as living across the street from this garden at 740 N. Sheridan Road, but her obituary states that she lived at 703 N. Sheridan Road, the address of this beautiful garden. According to her obituary, Georgia was "known throughout northern Ilinois as a garden expert... Her specialties were iris and peonies and the peony beds at the former family residence at 703 N. Sheridan Rd. were known far and wide."
Another view of the garden at 703 N. Sheridan Road, Waukegan. This G.D. Clarke slide is titled, "Hibiscus Mallow." LCDM 93.32.368.
During World War I, Georgia sold flowers from her garden to benefit Victory Memorial Hospital and the Red Cross.
Special thanks to Beverly Millard at the Waukegan Historical Society for additional information on Georgia D. Clarke and Elam L. Clarke.