Friday, December 21, 2018

Design of the American Public Pleasure Garden after Dark

Lydia Medford described New York's Columbia Garden which sat near the Battery on the waterfront in 1800.

"A most romantic place, it is enclosed in a circular form and has little rooms and boxes all around, with chairs and tables...the trees are all hung with lamps, twinkling through the branches; in the center is a pretty little building with a fountain playing continually and the rays of the lamps on the drops of water gave it a cool sparkling appearance that was delightful. The little building, which has a kind of canopy and pillars all around the garden, had festoons of colored lamps, that at a distance looked like large brilliant stars seen through the branches; and placed all around were marble busts, beautiful little figures of Diana, Cupid and Venus, which by the glimmering of the lamps, partly concealed by the foliage, gave you an idea of enchantment. As we strolled through the trees, we passed a box that Miss Watts was in. She called to us, and we went in, and had a charming refreshing glass of ice cream, which has chilled me ever since. They have a fine orchestra and have concerts here sometimes."

Ironically, the details of the classical designs of many formal gardens with their intricate geometric beds were barely discernable at night. Usually the more formal gardens came to life only after dark under the illumination of torchlights or garlands of hanging lanterns strung along the sides of garden paths, dotted about the edges in trees, and near private supper boxes. The reflected swaying light lent the fragrant walks & secluded arbors the eerie intimacy of moving garden shapes in silhouette. The details of the living garden were lost in the dark, only the skeleton formed by the intersecting walkways separating the garden beds and the shadows
remained to form a backdrop. Strolling patrons, often lulled by their favorite libations, listened to music, & gazed up at fiery torches glistening through the trees. Twinkling candles, which garden patrons had paid for when they entered the resort, dotted the tables spread around the edges of the grounds.

How Our Grandfathers Lived, Albert Bushnell Hart, Annie Bliss Chapman, Macmillan 1916