Follow NELDHA on Facebook!

Member Login

Support our Sponsors

Our Affiliates





In this section, we publish articles relating to preservation practice. This includes projects and programs presented by NELDHA, issues facing the preservation professional, and other articles of interest to the landscape preservation professional.

How Practical is Pure? A Preservation Case Study

This article originally appeared in the December-January 1995-1996 issue of Perspectives, Vol. 13. No.3. The author, Margaret Pokorny, attended Radcliffe Seminars and received the 2012 Park Partners Award from Mayor Menino for a citizen's contribution to Boston's open spaces. Ms. Pokorny has dedicated her attention to revitalizing the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, the Esplanade and street trees inthe Back Bay.


PresNet Tours the Restored Grounds of a Newport Mansion in Rhode Island

sunken-garden-elms-2012-crop-webImage: Bones of the sunken garden at The Elms before colorful bedding out of annuals, May 2012. Photograph by Maureen T. O'Brien

By Rose Marques

To walk the gardens of The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island today, one would not readily guess the restoration work that has ensured the landscape's future as a faithful representation of its past. And that being the case, a tour and discussion of this Gilded Age mansion's grounds became the perfect kickoff for NELDHA's new Landscape Preservation Network (PresNet). On May 19, 2012, a group of 13 walked the gardens with Jeff Curtis, Director of Gardens and Grounds for the Preservation Society of Newport County.

The Original Gardens

The Elms property particularly the garden fascade of the main house was modeled after the mid-eighteenth century French Chateau d'Asnieres. Completed in 1901 for about $1.4 million (equiv. $36.2 million, 2010), this summer residence on prestigious Bellevue Avenue was set in a park of majestic trees, including copper beeches, weeping birches and of course—elms.

With the acquisition of more land in 1907, the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind, began to develop the 7.5-acre landscape with assistance from their building architect Horace Trumbauer, their gardener Bruce Butterton and French landscape designer Jacques Greber. The gardens were developed between 1907 and 1914. 

herm-webUnder their care and creative direction, the grounds became a masterpiece of early twentieth century Classical Revival design. The landscape combined a Victorian picturesque parkland with Italian Renaissance and French Baroque elements. The expansive grounds hosted specimen trees strategically but informally planted to frame views of the main house, its stately gardens and garden ornaments. A grand allee of clipped lindens, ivy, arborvitae, statuary and fountains echoed the Italian Renaissance, while French-style marble pavilions completed the garden scene. Trumbauer created a sunken garden at the western edge of the property (replacing a lily pond) and carefully integrated and adapted certain European features to this American garden. Greber designed a parterre of boxwood, euonymus and flowers within the sunken garden. The necessary wealth to support this elaborate endeavor came from Berwind's fortune as the founder of the Berwind-White Coal Mining Company, which he led from 1886 to 1930, retiring just six years before his death. His architectural effort at The Elms was noted with great interest: The property appeared in American Estates in 1904 and in The Architectural Record in 1925

Image: Herm nestled in the linden hedge. May 2012. Photograph by Maureen T. O'Brien.

Restoration of the Gardens

Fast-forward about half a century and much had changed. Once a beautiful home and lush landscape built for high-society entertaining, The Elms had a date with a wrecking ball on the horizon. The Preservation Society of Newport County stepped in to purchase the property in 1961 and to save it from demolition. In 1996, The Elms was designated as a National Historic Landmark, based on its significance for its architectural and landscape design of the Classical Revival Style in the period from 1900 through the 1920s.

But it was not until 1998, that the Society undertook a restoration of the sunken garden, the centerpiece of the landscape. The restoration's goal was to return the garden to its c.1914 appearance of grandeur. This was achieved by re-establishing historic plantings and infrastructure during the first three phases of the overall project. The fourth, and very last, phase restored of the garden’s architecturalfeatures two marble pavilions, marble balustrades, retaining walls and three fountains with marble and bronze sculptures. Fortunately, a good deal of historic documentation existed to support an accurate restoration. The restoration also provided the perfect opportunity to improve the garden's irrigation, drainage and paths The first phase brought together existing documentation into a cohesive report, the Historic Landscapes Research Report on The Elm's that documented the evolution of the grounds from 1888 to 1915. Architectural drawings, family account books, correspondence and photographs were identified in the report and used in the reconstruction effort.