This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Now that our large cities are provided with Rural Cemeteries on a large scale, which excel in beauty, magnitude, and embellishment, any of their European prototypes, and which are peculiarly American institutions, created under the most liberal laws, providing in every conceivable manner for their protection and perpetuation, it is natural that the next great step in rural progress should be in providing public Gardens and Parks for the people. The growing interest in such rural places is becoming quite general in the older cities of the Union, and is the greatest move yet made towards providing the masses with healthful exercise and instructive recreation. With our mode of managing municipal affairs, it is to be expected that grave errors will often be committed; that abuses will creep in; and that the final results will often be far below what they would have been, had the right men been selected to design and direct the improvements.
At Baltimore, a project has been on foot for a year or two, which, so far, has been conceived and conducted in such a far-seeing, wise, disinterested, and business-like manner, and with results so entirely satisfactory, that I propose to furnish a brief account of the same for the benefit of the citizens of such cities and towns as may be meditating on the ways and means for providing themselves with a public park.
In an ordinance for providing a system of City Railways, the company was required to provide more and better accommodations for the public at five cents, than the omnibuses had for six cents; and to pay also to the city one cent for each passenger carried, for the purpose of creating a fund for a public park. It is estimated that this "park-cent" (as it is called) will average, during the fifteen years of the grant, not less than one hundred thousand dollars per annum, making the city passenger railways just that much more valuable to the city of Baltimore than the similar grants in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.
Thus the introduction of the City Passenger Railway system, which was considered an adjunct to a park, has not only served to enlarge the views of the Baltimoreans on that subject, but has actually furnished the means for its purchase and adornment, without resorting to direct taxation. For the purpose of carrying this project into effect, a commission, composed of five gentlemen, who were selected for their integrity, and taste in rural affairs, was created, and clothed with power by the city authorities, to select and purchase a suitable site, or sites, and lay out the same as a public park. The first act of this commission was, to advertise for sites containing not less than five hundred acres. Seventeen sites were offered, eight of which came up to the requirements of the advertisement, embracing several hundred pieces of land; the owners in each case combining to present a plat of the required area. Each site was examined with a view to its special adaptation to the purposes of a park, which embraced a topographical survey of the territory sufficiently accurate to enable them to estimate the cost of preparing it for the purposes required - its water and wood, its diversity of scenery, and capacity for cheap and easy improvement.
The result of these examinations was the selection of Druid Hill, the property of Lloyd N. Rogers, Esq., embracing about five hundred and seventeen acres, at a cost of four hundred and ninety-seven thousand three hundred dollars, and located within five minutes' walk of two of the City Railway lines. The site is beautifully diversified by gentle hills of varied forms, connected by flattened ridges into groups, or irregular ranges, forming grand foregrounds, and broken and intricate middle-grounds and distances; one large eminence near the centre of the park, and at the rear of the mansion, being three hundred and sixty-six feet above tide - a hundred and fifty-one feet higher than the Hampden Reservoir, and nearly three times the altitude of Vista Rock, in the New York Central Park, and by far the highest point of land in the vicinity of Baltimore. This hill is clothed with a fine growth of old forest trees, and forms the great central feature of the place; com-manding, as it does, a series of magnificent views of the city, the bay-beyond, down to Kent Island and Annapolis; while, to the eastward and westward, there is a succession of inland scenes of great beauty and diversity of character.
The valleys being broad and gentle in their undulations, furnish admirable sites for parade-grounds, play-grounds, etc, producing great breadth of effect in the landscape. As a whole, the grounds are characterized by greatness, distinctness, and strongly-marked divisions, conspiring to grandeur, rather than easy transitions and delicate flowing lines.
The late owner allowed the buildings, fences, etc, to go to decay; and, excepting the great pear orchards, the meadow, pasture, and a few fields cultivated for personal convenience rather than profit, the place has been neglected and allowed to grow up without restraint This, though very bad farming, has greatly enhanced its value for a park by the growth of trees and underwood in many places, especially along the fence rows. The general healthiness of the trees and freedom from mutilation, are unusual so near a large city, which probably may be attributed to the pride of the late proprietor in protecting and conserving the property bequeathed to him from his ancestors. These grounds, although neglected (agriculturally) for a long time, are not a barren waste, that has to be reclaimed, and planted, and cultivated half a century before shade enough is provided to entice people from their homes in hot weather; but are now furnished with a broad, irregular belt of original forest, nearly encircling the park, and breaking irregularly into masses and groups over the central portions, which has been preserved and fostered with jealous care by the late owner and his ancestors for a century and a half.
To the arboriculturist, these grounds are particularly interesting for the great number and variety of large, healthy, and park-like trees, among which are to be found scores of magnificent old oaks from twelve to fifteen feet in circumference, that would do credit to Windsor Great Park or Fontaineblcau.; sometimes standing singly, at others having marshalled around them generations of descendants, forming groves of families; numbers of Hickories from eight to eleven feet in circumference, and from sixty to ninety feet in height; also gigantic Tulip trees, of which no European park can boast, that loom up here and there twenty to thirty feet above their neighbors, giving variety" to the sky-lines and spirit to the groups. These giants of the forest, when allowed room to spread and develop themselves, make admirable park trees, having a robust, masculine character peculiar to themselves.
Of the other trees that flourish, the more conspicuous are Maples, Elms, Planes, Walnuts, Ash, and quite a variety of second and third-class trees and shrubs, together forming a greater variety of the plants indigenous to North America than is usually found in the same compass.
Scattered over the grounds are groups of grand old trees, in rich clustering characters, with finely rounded and flowing outlines, combined with lower trees and bushes of various hues, blending the lines of the masses with the soil from which they spring; sometimes projecting boldly forward, forming indentations and breaks of ever-varying shapes and dimensions, with broad, deep glades of turf or low bushes intervening, forming living pictures with magical effects of light and shade.
Frequently the lines are continued in the most irregular and picturesque manner by the fence-rows, which, from long neglect, have grown up with perfect freedom into irregular belts and screens, dividing the domain into scenes of varied character. The central portion, in the immediate vicinity of the mansion, is more open, probably from having been planted with shortlived trees, like the Catalpa, the Lombardy Poplar, Ac, which, having reached maturity, have died. This portion will require new plantations, and, occupying the higher grounds, demands, and is capable of receiving, the maximum amount of arboricultural decoration, forming, with other appropriate improvements, the grand central feature of the place.
Broad meadows, bordered by irregular groups of trees connected by dense thickets of wild and tangled underwood, climbers and vines feathering to the ground, and spreading irregularly into masses, which luxuriate in the most negligent abandon; the central portions enlivened by majestic old specimen trees, or small groups, form scenes of great breadth and dignity, such as are to be found in the best English parks.
Persons alive to the charms of a landscape will find at every move or turn new scenes bursting upon the vision; the eye is often led a wanton chase down the long vistas terminating in some deeply embayed recess of the skirting woodland, or across the broad meadows checkered by the shadows of shrubs and single trees; or, arrested by the gorgeous coloring of a group in an old fence-row, follows it by degrees through its intricate forms and coloring, till lost in the general hue of the distant wood.
The coloring, too, is agreeable and harmonious; at times, sombre and retiring; at others, rich, deep, and gorgeous enough to satisfy the most vivid imagination, such as Hickories, Tulip-trees, Sassafras, Dogwoods, Maples, Tupelos, and Liquidambers only proauce. These fine pictorial effects, the harmonious grouping and blending of color, are the results of time and nature left unrestrained to work up the rough outlines of the original proprietors. With such material in abundance, it will be seen that, with the aid of a landscape artist to open a vista here, fill out a group there, and plant oat an offensive object in another direction, Baltimore may in a year or so have a park that will not be equalled in the world.
In short, the site embraces a fine surface for ornamental treatment, abounding in a variety of undulations, gentle, graceful, and grand; finely wooded portions forming a dense exterior belt of primitive growth; groups and single trees diversifying the interior portrons, and forming admirable park-like scenes; fine springs of water to supply drinking fountains, and a small lake, and facilities for an abundant supply by artificial means for larger lakes and fountains at a trifling outlay; all of which conspire to the making of a noble pleasure-ground in the shortest time, and with a comparatively small expenditure of money; and if this project, so admirably commenced, is completed with improvements adapted to the wants and enjoyments of the public, conceived and executed in the spirit and genius of the place, the result will be a grand park, worthy of the Monumental City.