Elgin Botanic Garden

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Elgin Botanic Garden
Elgin Painting at NY Botanical Garden.png
Painting of the Elgin Botanic Garden, c.1810
Location New York City
Area19 34 acres (8.0 ha)

The Elgin Botanic Garden was the first public botanical garden in the United States, established in 1801 by New York physician David Hosack. By 1810, Hosack was no longer able to fund the garden's expenses, and sold the land to the State of New York. The property was given to Columbia College in 1814, and the gardens were abandoned. In the 1920s, it became the site of Rockefeller Center.

Botanical garden well-tended area displaying a wide range of plants labelled with their botanical names

A botanical garden or botanic garden is a garden dedicated to the collection, cultivation, preservation and display of a wide range of plants labelled with their botanical names. It may contain specialist plant collections such as cacti and other succulent plants, herb gardens, plants from particular parts of the world, and so on; there may be greenhouses, shadehouses, again with special collections such as tropical plants, alpine plants, or other exotic plants. Visitor services at a botanical garden might include tours, educational displays, art exhibitions, book rooms, open-air theatrical and musical performances, and other entertainment.

David Hosack American physician

David Hosack was a noted American physician, botanist, and educator. He remains widely known as the doctor who tended to the fatal injuries of Alexander Hamilton after his duel with Aaron Burr in July 1804, and who had similarly tended to Hamilton's son Philip after his fatal 1801 duel with George Eacker. He established several institutions including Elgin Botanic Garden and a medical school at Rutgers University.

Rockefeller Center mixed-use building complex in New York City

Rockefeller Center is a large complex consisting of 19 commercial buildings covering 22 acres (89,000 m2) between 48th and 51st Streets, facing Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. The 14 original Art Deco buildings, commissioned by the Rockefeller family, span the area between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, split by a large sunken square and a private street called Rockefeller Plaza. Five International Style buildings, built later, are located on the west side of Sixth Avenue and at the north end of Rockefeller Plaza.


Establishment and development

In 1801, New York physician David Hosack created the Elgin Botanic Garden, named for his father's Scottish birthplace. [1] Hosack was among the leading medical practitioners of his time, [2] :3 and was later remembered primarily as the physician who attended the 1804 duel between his friends Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, and who treated Hamilton's fatal injuries.

Burr–Hamilton duel 1804 duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton

The Burr–Hamilton duel was fought at Weehawken, New Jersey between Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, the former Secretary of the Treasury. It occurred on July 11, 1804, and was the culmination of a long and bitter rivalry between the two men. Vice President Burr shot Hamilton, while Hamilton's shot broke a tree branch directly above Burr's head. Hamilton was carried to the home of William Bayard Jr. where he died the next day.

Alexander Hamilton first Secretary of the Treasury and Founding Father of the United States

Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was an influential interpreter and promoter of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the founder of the nation's financial system, the Federalist Party, the United States Coast Guard, and the New York Post newspaper. As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was the main author of the economic policies of George Washington's administration. He took the lead in the Federal government's funding of the states' debts, as well as establishing a national bank, a system of tariffs, and friendly trade relations with Britain. His vision included a strong central government led by a vigorous executive branch, a strong commercial economy, a national bank and support for manufacturing, and a strong military. Thomas Jefferson was his leading opponent, arguing for agrarianism and smaller government.

Aaron Burr American Vice President and politician

Aaron Burr Jr. was an American politician and lawyer. He was the third vice president of the United States (1801–1805), serving during President Thomas Jefferson's first term.

Engraving (c. 1802) of a drawing by L. Simond, titled View of the Botanic Garden at Elgin in the vicinity of the City of New York View of the Botanic Garden at Elgin.jpg
Engraving (c.1802) of a drawing by L. Simond, titled View of the Botanic Garden at Elgin in the vicinity of the City of New York

Elgin was the first public botanical garden in the United States. [3] It was established with Hosack's purchase of 19 34 acres (8.0 ha) of "common lands" from the City of New York for approximately $4,800, equivalent to $95,000 in 2018 dollars. [2] :6,14 [4] The location, 3 12 miles (5.6 km) outside of what was then the city limit, is bounded by present-day 47th Street on the south, 51st Street on the north, and Fifth Avenue on the east, reaching nearly to Sixth Avenue on the west. [5] It is now the site of Rockefeller Center. [6]

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

47th Street (Manhattan) street in the borough of Manhattan in New York City

47th Street is an east–west running street between First Avenue and the West Side Highway in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. Traffic runs one way along the street, from east to west, starting at the headquarters of the United Nations. The street features the Diamond District in a single block and also courses through Times Square.

51st Street (Manhattan) street in Manhattan

51st Street is a 1.9-mile (3.1 km) long one-way street traveling east to west across Midtown Manhattan.

The entire property "was intended by Professor Hosack for a botanical garden, the prime object of which was to be the collection and cultivation of native plants of this country, especially such as possess medicinal properties or are otherwise useful." [7] At his own expense, Hosack landscaped the garden with a variety of indigenous and exotic plants, mostly of American origin. By 1805, the garden was home to 1,500 species of plants from all over the world, including some rare specimens contributed by Thomas Jefferson. [5] The following year, Hosack published Hortus Elginensis (1806), a catalogue and visitors' guide, containing an extensive list of the plants under cultivation at Elgin. [7]

Thomas Jefferson 3rd president of the United States

Thomas Jefferson was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, and Founding Father who served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809. Previously, he had served as the second vice president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. The principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was a proponent of democracy, republicanism, and individual rights motivating American colonists to break from the Kingdom of Great Britain and form a new nation; he produced formative documents and decisions at both the state and national level.

Drawing of Elgin by Reinagle, frontispiece of Hosack's Hortus Elginensis catalogue (2nd ed., 1811) Elgin 1811 catalog engraving.jpg
Drawing of Elgin by Reinagle, frontispiece of Hosack's Hortus Elginensis catalogue (2nd ed., 1811)

The grounds were fully enclosed by an imposing stone wall, 7 feet (2.1 m) tall and 2 12 feet (0.76 m) thick. [2] :7 Within the walls, a spacious greenhouse flanked by two hothouses presented a 180-foot (55 m) frontage running west from present-day Fifth Avenue, and encircled by what Hosack called a "belt of forest trees and shrubs judiciously chequered and mingled." [2] :7 [5]

Hosack's funds were insufficient to support such a project indefinitely, and it was suggested that he was so preoccupied with his endeavors in the creation of a new medical school that he had neither time nor money to continue the garden. [7] In 1808, Hosack was compelled to offer the property for sale, and for several years, he petitioned the New York State Legislature to purchase it and maintain it as an aid in medical education. [2] :7 Ultimately, in March 1810, the State of New York purchased Elgin for $75,000, leaving Hosack with a loss of $28,000 after his expenses to buy and develop the property. [2] :8 [5] [8] :55

New York State Legislature state legislature of the U.S. state of New York

The New York State Legislature consists of the two houses that act as the state legislature of the U.S. state of New York. The New York Constitution does not designate an official term for the two houses together. It says only that "legislative power is vested in the senate and assembly." The session laws are published in the official Laws of New York. The permanent laws of a general nature are codified in the Consolidated Laws of New York. The legislature is seated at the New York State Capitol in Albany.

Responsibility for the property was given to the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, [7] and in the 1811 second edition of the Hortus Elginensis catalogue, a frontispiece identified Elgin as "the Botanic Garden of the State of New-York". [9] In a preface dated March 1811, Hosack wrote that Elgin had "been purchased by the State for the benefit of the Medical Schools of New-York", [9] :vii and projected his expectation that it would remain a permanent institution. [2] :11–12 The catalogue concluded with a note that "improvements which may hereafter take place in this institution, and the additions which may be made to the collection of plants, will in future be regularly published, as an annual report to the Legislature, and the Regents of the University." [9] :66 Hosack continued to pay the garden's expenses until May 1811, when it was placed under the management of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which had not yet merged with Columbia. [2] :9

The Commissioners' Plan of 1811 that laid out the scheme for New York City's future grid of streets and avenues gave names to the carriage road leading to Elgin's garden, which became Sixth Avenue, and to the pathway that fronted Elgin's south-facing greenhouses, which became 50th Street. [5]

Abandonment and later uses

In April 1814, the New York legislature voted to transfer the land to Columbia College, [7] with the provision that the college would be moved to the site, although Columbia successfully lobbied for the removal of that condition in 1819. [2] :13–15 [10] Columbia had no interest in continuing to maintain the costly botanical garden, and turned over responsibility for the gardens to Clement Clarke Moore, best known as a writer and light poet. [5]

Beginning in March 1817, the property was leased to a series of individual tenants paying little or no rent, in return for obligations to maintain the grounds, while repeated applications from Hosack for a lease (in 1819, 1825, and 1828) were denied. [2] :16–17 By 1823, the property had sunk "into utter decrepitude", and the abandoned botanical gardens eventually fell into decay. [5] Surviving plant specimens were shipped to Morningside Heights where they were replanted at the Bloomingdale Asylum, and Hosack's library of horticultural texts became part of the collection of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. [5]

The property became known as Columbia's "Upper Estate," and by 1879, twelve acres had been fully developed for residential use, with 298 rowhouses in a then-stylish neighborhood. [11] By the mid-1920s, however, it had deteriorated into "an unseemly collection of boarding houses, nightclubs and speakeasies on the northern boundary of New York's theater district." [11]

In late 1928, Columbia University agreed to lease a three-block portion of the land to John D. Rockefeller Jr. for the construction of Rockefeller Center, in return for approximately $3.5 million annual rent until 1952, followed by options for three 21-year renewals. [11] Rockefeller subsequently acquired additional lots from Columbia, as well as surrounding properties. [11] The original property was still owned by Columbia until 1985, when it was sold for $400 million. [12]

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  1. Leitch, Alexander (1978). A Princeton Companion. Princeton University Press. pp. 261–262.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Brown, Addison (1908). Elgin Botanic Garden, Its Later History and Relation to Columbia College, the New Hampshire Grants and the Treaty with Vermont in 1790. Lancaster, Pa.: Press of the New Era Print. Co.
  3. Bolton, H.C. (October 1897). "Early American Chemical Societies". Appletons' Popular Science Monthly. New York: D. Appleton and Co. 51: 822. Retrieved June 8, 2010. Hosack ... was Professor of Botany and Materia Medica in Columbia College, but is best known as the founder of the first public botanic garden in the United States in 1801. He died under tragic circumstances—of shock at the disastrous conflagration in New York city which swept away his property to the value of $300,000.
  4. Thomas, Ryland; Williamson, Samuel H. (2019). "What Was the U.S. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved April 6, 2019. United States Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the Measuring Worth series.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Okrent, Daniel (2004). Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center . Penguin Books. pp. 20–22. ISBN   9781101666906.
  6. Dana Schulz (March 30, 2016). "The Country's First Botanic Garden Was on 20 Wooded Acres at Today's Rockefeller Center". 6sqft. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Wilbert, M.I. (September 1908). "Some Early Botanical and Herb Gardens". American Journal of Pharmacy. Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. 80: 423. Retrieved June 16, 2010.
  8. Jeffe, Elizabeth Rohn (Spring 2004). "Hamilton's Physician: David Hosack, Renaissance Man of Early New York" (PDF). New-York Journal of American History (3): 54–58.
  9. 1 2 3 Hosack, David (1811). Hortus Elginensis, or A catalogue of plants, indigenous and exotic, cultivated in the Elgin Botanic Garden, in the vicinity of the city of New-York: established in 1801 (2nd ed.). New York: T. & J. Swords.
  10. "Chap. XIX. An Act relative to Columbia College, in the city of New-York". Laws of the State of New-York, Passed at the 42nd, 43rd, and 44th Sessions of the Legislature: From January 1819 to April 1821, Vol. V. Albany: William Gould & Co. 1821 [February 19, 1819]. p. 26.
  11. 1 2 3 4 New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (1985). "Rockefeller Center Designation Report" (PDF). City of New York. pp. 12, 14–15. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-11-07.
  12. Dowd, Maureen (February 6, 1985). "Columbia Is to Get $400 Million in Rockefeller Center Land Sale". The New York Times.
  13. "Elgin Botanic Garden (Later Rockefeller Center): Painting by Frederick Elmiger". George Glazer Gallery. 2007. Archived from the original on 2015-09-12.

Further reading

Coordinates: 40°45′31″N73°58′44″W / 40.7586°N 73.9788°W / 40.7586; -73.9788