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Oldgate, 1900; 2005; 2012-2013; 2015

view Oldgate, 1900; 2005; 2012-2013; 2015 digital asset number 1
Manus, George
Garden designer:
Cowles, Margaret Krech
Hayward, Gordon
Cowles, William Sheffield
Cowles, Bill
Landscape architect:
Cowles, Evan
Designer of the gate:
Spratts, William
Former owner:
Cowles family
Physical description:
3 folders+ 2 35mm slides (photographs); 5 prints; 33 digital images
Mixed archival materials
United States of America, Connecticut, Hartford, Farmington
Oldgate (Farmington, Connecticut)
1900 2005 2012-2013 2015
This property has been owned since the mid-17th century, with the first small house built circa 1690 and the present Georgian style house first built in 1792, designed by William Spratt, a British architect who practiced in Connecticut after being imprisoned during the Revolutionary War. The property has been owned by members of only two families during most of its history, including Anna Roosevelt Cowles, the older sister of President Theodore Roosevelt, who had the first ornamental garden installed circa 1900, replacing what had been a barnyard. According to family lore Frederick Law Olmsted's architectural firm designed the garden but no documentation has been found supporting that claim. At present the 1.75 acre property is described as a green garden comprised of spacious lawns with island perennial beds, various boxwood hedges, and mature trees planted in the 1950s that include some notable specimens. There is a non-chlorinated cement swimming pool that supplies water for the sprinklers in the garden. An old smokehouse in one corner of the garden is used as a toolshed.
The woodland gardens around the perimeter of the property date back to the earliest landscape design but the original rose and cutting gardens have been replaced by lawns. Island beds with perennials, bulbs and shrubs have been cut into the lawns breaking up its mostly rectilinear shape. In the 1930s a high stone wall replaced the original picket fence along the dirt road in front of the house, retaining the original 1792 Chinese Chippendale-style gate designed by Spratt said to be based on a water gate in London, England that he knew. In recent years walkways have been added, the pool has been fenced for safety, and a new flower bed was created next to a new low stone wall.
Oldgate features several historic trees documented by the Connecticut Notable Tree project in 2007: a Nordmann fir, a Kousa dogwood, a Royal Empress Paulownia, a fragrant snowbell and a southern Japanese hemlock all have been cited as among the largest of their species in the state. There is a dawn redwood in the garden believed to be descended from seeds found in China in the 1940s that were germinated at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. Storms have made changes to the mature trees that shaded this garden, including the snowstorm of October 2011 that felled a paulownia and scores of branches from other trees, necessitating more watering and more planting of trees, particularly native species.
Persons associated with the garden include Hooker family members (former owners, 1645-1733); John Nash and Samuel Nash (former owners, 1733-1747); Isaac Bidwell (former owner, 1747-1792); Cowles family members (owners 1792- ); William Spratt (architect , circa 1792); William Sheffield Cowles, Jr. and Margaret Krech Cowles (garden designers (1932-1986); Bill Cowles (architect, 1986-1995); Evan Cowles (landscape architect, 1986- ); George Manus (sculptor, 2002); Gordon Hayward (garden designer, 2010).
The folder includes worksheets, photocopies of articles and other information.
This property is featured in "American Continuity" by Susan Mary Alsop, published in Architectural Digest, September 1986, pp. 170-175
This property is featured in "The Very Deep Roots of the Cowles Family Garden" by Judith Haynes Hochberg, published in Northeast Magazine, The Hartford Courant, July 2, 1989
This property is featured in "Serene Setting: A Place of History" by Nancy Schoeffler, published in The Hartford Courant at Home, May 31, 2013
Local number:
Data Source:
Archives of American Gardens

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