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Grey Towers National Historic Site


Historical Information

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Historic Landscape

photo of walled garden with rows of roses and large chestnut tree with Grey Towers in the background, circa 1890James Pinchot retired from business in 1875 at the age of 44 "to devote the balance of his days to forestry and horticulture." The landscaping of his Grey Towers estate was one of his chief interests in the years during and after the completion of the house. Prior to Pinchot's occupancy much of the site was subjected to clearcut lumbering in preparation for farming. By 1886 James had planted over 100 trees, twenty varieties of roses and an assortment of vegetables. Shortly afterward James established a vineyard on the site.

At the same time the mansion was constructed, a 1 1/2-acre formal walled garden was built about 250 feet south of the mansion. Connecting the garden to the mansion was an allee lined with eastern white cedar and paved with stone. The arched entrance to the walled garden was similar in style to the mansion's entrance. James used the walled garden setting for his collection of over 200 rose bushes as well as fruit trees. Later on, Cornelia Pinchot developed an extensive perennial border with a hemlock hedge border. She also incorporated terra-cotta urns and stone benches.

Photo of allee lined with Black Locust trees leading to Grey TowersThe original entry road as laid out by James Pinchot wound slowly up the slope to the mansion from the Gate House. This entrance drive was changed in 1919, shortly after the introduction of automobile transportation, and provided a more direct line to the house. The maple-lined lower portion followed the the original route. At the point at which the drive straightened, black locust trees were planted on either side, creating an allee. The new drive location created the effect of not allowing one to view the house until reaching the top of the drive.

Gifford and Cornelia are credited with planting most of the present landscape. They, at one time, had a staff of seven gardeners and are known to have planted and moved mature trees. The most dramatic landscape changes were in the vicinity of the house. Cornelia created a series of outdoor landscape spaces or "rooms." Cornelia spent large sums on landscape development between 1918 and the 1930s. Some of the major landscape modifications at Grey Towers may have been "make-work" projects for out-of-work Milford residents during the Depression.

Photo of audience seated in Grey Towers amphitheater watching a performing seal, circa 1920An amphitheater was added in 1931 and was undoubtedly linked with the political activity of both Gifford and Cornelia. In keeping with many of the other landscape features, the amphitheater was designed by Chester Holmes Aldrich. The wedge-shaped area was enclosed on three sides by an arborvitae hedge. Audiences used the natural slope to provide raised seating and a view of the grassy stage.

USDA Forest Service - Grey Towers National Historic Site
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:19:05 CST

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