Special to The Swellesley Report from Wellesley Historical Society Board VP Fred Wright
On Saturday 9/23 The Wellesley Historical Society hosted for 40 participants an exceptional historical horticulture tour at the Hunnewell Estate. The Society thanks the Hunnewell family for their generosity in opening the grounds and sharing this unique horticulture collection with us and thank David Dusenbury, the estate’s Superintendent for leading us. He has been at the Estate since the mid-1970s and his knowledge and insights are beyond amazing.
The first thing we learned is that we were standing in the original “Wellesley” – Family Patriarch Horatio Hollis Hunnewell married Isabella Welles in 1835 and named the property Wellesley, which was then in West Needham, derived from Welles plus leah – (leah in old English means open field, meadow). In 1881, separating from West Needham, the town adopted the Wellesley name.
Horatio Hunnewell, in addition to being a successful banker, railroad financier and generous philanthropist had a lifelong passion for horticulture and started collecting conifers (evergreen needle and cone bearing trees) and other plant specimens from all over the world. When he began the only notable tree standing on the land was an old oak tree – still spectacularly growing today some 350 years later.
The Mansion House now on the property overlooking Lake Waban, was built in 1851 as a summer cottage. The family moved there from Beacon Hill full-time at the turn of the century and is still in residence.
On the 40-acre property we were introduced to trees and plants including a European English Linden tree with massive 6 ft across trunk planted in 1850, two rare Huntington Elms which have survived disease common to Elms, planted in 1849, and an amazing forest of conifers brought from many countries including China, Japan, Formosa and Turkey. We also visited “inside” the massive canopied tree seen in front the house – a weeping beech. The tour took us through a Conservatory attached to the Mansion to the view of Lake Waban and the Topiary Garden named the Italian Garden on the slope to the water. It is understood that this is the oldest Topiary Garden in the Country. In his travels H.H. Hunnewell became fascinated with Rhododendrons and is credited with propagating the first Rhododendrons hardy enough for New England.
In 1988 the property was christened The Hunnewell Estates Historic District and was added to the National Register.
Visit www.wellesleyhistoricalsociety.org for more history and information on other upcoming events.
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