Plant Talk | Science Talk

Small Treasures in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library

Jane Lloyd is a volunteer in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of The New York Botanical Garden.


Thuya-Lodge-bookplate-by-Jane-Lloyd-December-2016[1]As I huffed and puffed my way up that steep path from the road to Thuya Garden high on the hillside near Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Maine, I thought that this time curiosity about the books in the Rare Book Room of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library had taken me too far. That day in July 2016 was blisteringly hot and I was sweaty and thirsty. But there it was at last, a rustic board-and-batten house with a porch, appearing out of the forest of evergreen trees and shrubs at the end of the stone path. It looked just like the drawing on the bookplates I’d found in two books in the Mertz Library.

Joseph Henry Curtis (1846-1928) began to summer at Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island on the Maine coast in the 1870’s and later he bought a property on the slope of a mountain near Northeast Harbor, becoming one of the first summer residents of a growing summer colony of wealthy families. Curtis spent the rest of his life turning his property into a mountainside park, building a trail with granite stairways and scenic lookouts ascending the steep slope to a board-and-batten cottage that he named Thuya Lodge after the local white cedar tree, Thuja occidentalis. In 1905 Curtis created a trust to maintain his estate as a public trust for the local community; when he died his friend Charles Savage became director of the trust.

Charles Kenneth Savage (1903-1979) came from a family that had lived on Mount Desert Island since the end of the 18th century. Charles became an innkeeper and was active in local politics and civic affairs, becoming friends with John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Beatrix Farrand. He served on the Board of Directors of Farrand’s Reef Point Gardens in Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. When he became trustee of Thuya Lodge Savage opened the property to the public and developed the botanical research library there as a resource for visitors.

Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd'

Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’

From 1931 onwards, Charles Savage built up a library of rare and antiquarian books at Thuya Garden intended to be a valuable resource for botanical and horticultural research. Thuya Lodge and Garden had severe financial problems in the late 1960s. From 1970 to 1988 all of the rare and antiquarian books in its library were sold to help maintain the property.

Curiosity about old bookplates had taken me out of the library on physical and intellectual journeys to discover two lovely gardens in Maine and an important era in the history of American gardening. The two old and rare volumes in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library link the lives of wealthy American socialites and industrialists, prominent American gardeners, and ordinary American citizens.

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