VHF Newsletter 
September/October 2014

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Vaughan Woods & Historic Homestead

Gardens always mean something else, man absolutely uses one thing to say another.
                                                                         ~Robert Harbison, Eccentric Spaces, 1977
A History Mystery

"The Search for Benjamin's Garden"

To enter the main garden at the Vaughan Homestead one must first stand with the 1794 house to one's back, Benjamin Vaughan's 200 year old Black Oxford apple tree to the left, and the 100 year old "sun house" gazebo to the right. Standing like this, one is faced with a passageway cut into a towering cedar hedge, framing a glimpse of what is to come. Upon passing through the hedge, the outside world is quieted and left behind, and one is drawn across the green to the "summer house" gazebo.  Here visitors may sit in the shade with the wilderness at their backs and a panorama of blossoming flowers in the foreground. 

After reading Andrea Wulf's book, "Founding Gardeners," one might surmise that the garden, which literally stands as a formal doorway to the imposing wild woods beyond, is a statement of the importance of the American Wilderness - a common theme in the gardens of the founding fathers as described in Wulf's book. 

Benjamin Vaughan after all, was a contemporary who shared their passion for agriculture and botany, and who corresponded with all of the founding fathers. He even visited with Jefferson at Monticello, the site of the famed gardens, and exchanged seeds with him. It is hard to believe that Benjamin would not have been as deliberate with his garden design and plantings as his contemporaries were. The problem with this line of thinking, however, is that the garden we know today is not Benjamin's garden. Records show that the current Homestead garden was established by Ellen Twisleton Vaughan during a period of revitalization of the Homestead grounds sometime around 1900. How closely did she mimic the garden that existed during Benjamin's time 100 years earlier? Is it even stand in the same place? Did oral history give her some sense of what the garden once was? Did Benjamin keep records, as the founding fathers did, of what he planted, where he planted, and why he chose which species - records we have not found yet?

Here is what we know. In addition to a farm at the site of the current day Maple Hill Farm, Benjamin also planted crops and a garden at the Homestead itself. He also instructed specifically that the current day stand of old growth pines bordering the garden not be cut. Alluded to in various publications and letters, the garden was extensive and known for its beauty and juxtaposition to the woods and wild ravine.  The current day garden's unique design highlighting the Woods, plus Wulf's comparison of garden design and political statements, and the lack of anything more in our records than passing references to the Homestead's original garden piqued our curiosity, and thus began "The Search for Benjamin's Garden."

So far, we have investigated our catalogue of papers and articles as well as Vaughan family books, journals, and memoirs. We found many lovely descriptions of his garden and the answer to some but not all of our questions. The next step is to search Benjamin's papers that now live in other places, including the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston and Bowdoin College in Brunswick. We can only hope that he kept records or discussed his garden in the many letters that he wrote. But only time and research will tell. 

To read the garden references we have found so far, visit this article on our website. Also, stay tuned to the newsletter for the continuation of this "history mystery" as the "The Search for Benjamin's Garden" unfolds. 
Program Highlight

Founding Gardeners Talk by Author Andrea Wulf

October 4, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
Hallowell City Hall Auditorium
Free of charge

Based on the book "Founding Gardeners," this beautifully illustrated talk looks at the lives of the founding fathers and how their attitude to plants, gardens, nature and agriculture shaped the American nation. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison regarded themselves foremost as farmers and plantsmen and for them gardening, agriculture and botany were elemental passions, as deeply ingrained in their characters as their belief in liberty for the nation they were creating. In a unique retelling of the creation of America, award-winning historian Andrea Wulf will show how plants, politics and personalities intertwined as never before.  Additionally, she will make special reference to how our very own Samuel Vaughan, also mentioned in the book, was involved with the founding fathers and their gardening pursuits.


Andrea Wulf is author of several books. "The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentleman Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession" won the American Horticultural Society 2010 Book Award. "Founding Gardeners" was published under great acclaim in spring 2011 and made it on the New York Times Best Seller list. Andrea has written for many newspapers including the Guardian, the LA Times and the New York Times. She was the Eccles British Library Writer in Residence in 2013 and a three-time fellow of the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. She recently co-presented a TV garden series for the BBC. 


Word on the Woods 

Is it o.k. to collect natural objects in the Vaughan Woods?

The illegal removal of rocks as souvenirs by visitors to Acadia National Park made the news this summer as park officials began to speak out about how the problem has been on the rise in recent years. While the Vaughan Woods may not have the desirable smooth beach pebbles of Acadia, the wrongful collection of natural and cultural objects happens here as well. Given the dramatic rise in visitors in the last two years, this is becoming a major concern. Please help by sharing our rules about collecting objects as well as the other "Leave No Trace" guidelines for the Woods:
- Leave what you find
Damaging, defacing, or removing natural objects deprives other  visitors. Building structures and altering natural features spoils the wild feel of the preserve. 

- Avoid moving rocks & logs 
Moving rocks and logs disturbs important habitat in both the woods and the stream.
- Stay on maintained trails 
Straying from the trail leads to soil erosion and habitat destruction.
- Carry out trash & pet waste
Pet waste contains bacteria that is dangerous to human health and stream water quality.


The Vaughan Woods is a nature preserve and historic site. The removal of natural and cultural objects is strictly prohibited. Thank you for spreading the word! 


Upcoming Programs

September - October 
"Hunting & Fishing" exhibit case at Hubbard Library 

October 4
"Founding Gardeners" Talk 
by Andrea Wulf

October 11
Fall Celebration &
Autumn Fire
June/July History Mystery

"Where in the Woods?"

In our last newsletter we asked you to identify this place in the Vaughan Woods: 

The hint was: This hand-colored photograph was taken in 1926. The answer is: 

The first photograph depicts the Wire Mill Dam built in 1870. The Wire Mill was later an isinglass factory and then Hallowell Light & Power. At the turn of the century the dam was purchased by William Warren Vaughan and his brother Benjamin. At first they built the wooden pathway (as pictured) across the top for easy passage. But later, according the memoirs of his daughter Mary, during a trip to Scotland William was inspired by an arch bridge over a waterfall at Kelburn Castle. Upon returning home, he began construction of the current day Arch Bridge, pictured above, at the site of the dam. William Warren Vaughan's Arch Bridge was completed in 1930 and is made from the stones of the Wire Mill Dam that once stood in its place. 



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