Quintessential Barrington

Barrington Bloomed and Boomed

For Early Barrington the Flowers Came First


story by Barbara L. Benson


Long before an enterprising realtor “boomed” Barrington in the early years of the 20th century, bringing estate owners and gentlemen farmers with their architects and landscape designers to the countryside, residents of town and country tended their flower and vegetable gardens, their fruit trees, and their corn patches. Many a chicken clucked away in Village backyards, a goat or two, and in the early days, Village President M.B. McIntosh pastured his cow at the eastern end of what is now West Lake Street. The backyard of his East Lake Street residence was notable for its croquet lawn and beehives.

The most prolific correspondent of the 1890s, Emaline Hawley Brown, in her always newsy letters from the Octagon House to her daughter, Laura Nightingale in Minnesota, often gave colorful word pictures of her gardens on West Main Street. Emaline’s daughter at home, Hattie, also wrote letters to her sister Laura about their gardens, which were apparently widely admired. One letter noted that “Pa” had an octagonal flower bed on the front lawn.

In May 1891, it was Hattie who wrote to Laura:

“Our tulips are nicely in blossom now and we have a host of them, also our lilies of the valley, the flowering almonds, the daffodils, the bleeding hearts, and some petunias. The peony buds begin to look red I noticed too.”

A month later, Emaline wrote to her daughter:

“I must tell you about our flowers they do look so pretty. Hattie and I counted the peonies Sunday, there were eighty seven on three bushes, there is a row of those grass pinks around that large flower bed east of the house and around the one south of the house and all in blossoms, and those large red poppies are in blossom and the roses and geraniums. Pa bought a rose bush this spring, it is called queen of the prairie, it is a climbing rose.”

The Octagon House gardens continued to flourish and by 1898, the rose bush had evidently grown well, in spite of years when storms took their toll. On June 4, in a long letter, Emaline writes to Laura:

“I wish you could see our lovely roses and peonies, our yellow rose bush is covered with blossoms and it is a large bush – one small pink rose bush not over a foot high has over one hundred blossoms and buds on it and our climbing rose is full of lovely roses – one red peony bush has over thirty blossoms and I have picked off quite a number they are as large as a quart bowl seems as if they never were so nice as they are this year. The large red poppies are in blossom now and the easter lilies are coming on fast – both of our white lilac bushes blossomed this spring.”

Neighbors no longer chat over white picket fences, which, shown in older photographs were part of the West Main Street scene. But Linda Learn, the present owner of the Octagon House, maintains a colorful front garden, to be enjoyed by the thousands of daily passersby in a still booming and blooming Barrington.

Barbara L. Benson presents “The Octagon House Letters – An Afternoon Tea and Presentation” on March 23, from 2–4 p.m. at Barrington’s White House. Tickets are available at www.barringtonswhitehouse.com. Also see The QB Calendar in this issue for more details.

- - - - - - - -

Barbara L. Benson grew up in Kent, England, and later moved to New York. She settled in Barrington and has walked with our history ever since she first arrived here in 1980.