Tuesday, June 23, 2015


    NO LONGER is the traveler surprised to find in the Lake States houses and gardens reflecting taste and background. No longer do people feel that in going to the Middle West they exile themselves from all that is worth while in the arts. And it is partly in houses and gardens on the order of
this of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Lowe at Grand Rapids. Mich., that one sees the steady development of architecture and landscape architecture in a state which was not a state until ninety years ago.

    In all of the important cities around the Great Lakes there have always been houses which were centers of cultivation; houses in some cases beautiful without as within. This is true not only in Chicago and Cleveland, but in particular of Detroit. It is true, in isolated instances, of the smaller cities and the small towns of the Middle West; and almost anywhere one sees traces of fine building, sometimes of old gardens planned with simple taste and planted well.

    To-day, however, the movement toward beautiful, toward picturesque building grows as the gardening movement does—which is to say, in unprecedented volume. And the instance given on these pages is but one of many. While Grand Rapids is a lesser city, but known for the beautiful
topography of its situation and surrounding country and for its outstanding quality as a city built and maintained by an integral American stock, reinforced by a stable population of Holland Dutch, this house  and garden are perhaps as good an example as may be given to show the true progress we are making in building and in gardening. For here, to adapt the Baconian phrase, men have come both to build stately and to garden finely.

Shrub planting plan, Edward Lowe estate, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1922. Cornell Univ. Library
    The house is not new. Designed by Winslow & Bigelow of Boston some twenty odd years ago, it has stood well the test of time in its dignified and simple mass and in its delightful inner arrangement. It is a beautiful brick house. Elizabethan in feeling, superbly placed on a rise of ground, with a curving entrance drive through plantations of uncommonly well-grown evergreens and deciduous trees, including a number of magnificent elms. Incidentally, this is the tree for which, together with the native thorn or crataegus, this region is celebrated. A charming gate lodge of the brick of the house stands embowered in green, and a small lake or pond to the left of the drive approaching the house gives life to the whole picture.

    "Holmdene" the place is called. All the broader parts of this eighty acres of beautifully rolling and wooded land were planned, so far as further planting was concerned, by Mr. O. C. Simonds, while Ellen Shipman made the garden. The photographs shown here were taken in the month of June when delphiniums and accompanying flowers were at their best.

Terrace, Edward Lowe estate, Grand Rapids, Mich.
    To the north and west of the house lies a grass terrace, with retaining walls of brick and with a balustrade of stone in fine design. 

In the borders all the flowers of early summer, irises, foxgloves delphiniums, etc., are seen at their best. In mid-August, the little brick walks are white-edged with alyssum, and later flowers—asters, zinnias, ageratum, phloxes, etc.—make a wonderful display
    Four feet below the terrace is another with flower borders, a long panel of turf and a gay garden seat at either end. 

One of the three water features in this enchanting garden of varying levels is the oblong pool in the main perennial garden which occupies a broad terrace approximately 60 x 150 feet lying two levels below the terrace
    From this terrace, at whose north end there stands a fine elm for shade as well as beauty, four steps descend to the main perennial garden, also on a broad terrace. Here is an oblong pool, a thorn tree at one end, an ancient jar at the other. Heucheras, sedums, statices, hostas, violas, irises, and a few stocks mark the edges of this pool; and an encircling border of fine perennials with inner borders and other perennial squares fills either end of this terrace, which must be sixty feet wide and about a hundred and fifty long. In the borders shown in the illustrations all the flowers of early summer are seen in irises, peonies, delphiniums, foxgloves; while mid-August shows all the little brick walks white-edged with alyssum, phloxes in wonderful array, ageratum, annual asters, zinnias, and statice. Great pots, some with pink hydrangeas, others with auratum lilies in full beauty, serve as accents at the corners of the beds and borders. Lilacs rise here and there and standard wisterias are deftly placed.

On a narrow terrace intervening between the main peremal garden and the rose garden is this circular stone platform where a jet of water falls into a lead basin. Curving steps on either side lead to little flower-bordered walks looped with rose-covered bamboo arches.

    Three more steps down, and one comes to a circular stone platform where a jet of water falls into a lead basin, with a great oil jar against whose base pinks snuggle, and back of which rises the rich green of lilac foliage. This is all in the center of a narrow terrace with one long walk of gravel bordered again by perennial bloom. Thence three more curving steps on either side of the basin lead to yet another of these little flower-bordered walks, hooped with rose-covered bamboo arches, and with irises, delphiniums and all the profusion of color of early and late summer in rich perfection.

Lower terrace and Winged Mercury, Edward Lowe estate, Grand Rapids, Mich., Cornell Univ. Library
    Five steps down once more, and we are in the rose garden. Here an enchanting pattern is picked out by narrow gravel walks edged by the most minute and beautifully kept hedges of box-barberry. These are nor more than five inches through. The rose garden  is in two repeated designs,and between these two halves runs a grass walk some fourteen feet wide which leads to the focal point of the whole garden and its lowest one as well. This is a semicircular pool where stands a beautiful Winged Mercury backed by dense foliage of magnolia and elder.

    The pool, a raised one with a low wall of stone, is in a recess to the west of a stone-paved platform, where two very symmetrical dwarf apple trees give a decorative effect from every point of view, and under whose shade the earlier tea and the later coffee are often enjoyed. From this center of interest run two curving walks partly enclosing the rose garden, with  high-clipped hedges of arborvitae on their outer sides.

     In the late sun of a warm August evening, as one sits on this platform gazing upward toward the ivy-hung house, there could hardly he a fairer sight in American gardens than this which meets the eye. Gardens, gardens—four of them on ascending levels till the floor level of the house is reached. The fine austerity of the rose garden, surmounted in midsummer by the great masses of phloxes in full bloom; in three places water, now dripping, now a smooth expanse; the clipped cedar, hemlock, and arborvitae as foils to the wealth of color—all this with the magnificent background of deep oak woods starred in May with daffodils in the north of house and gardens and that garden with its sweet scent of lilies and of phloxes, gives one the impression of a most finished English beauty in America. Louisa Yeomans King

"Holmdene" Historical Marker

First floor plan, 1906, Edward Lowe estate, Grand Rapids, Mich.

"Holmdene Manor has been the haunted focal point of Aquinas College for decades. Gary Eberle, the author of Haunted Houses of Grand Rapids, is a professor at this esteemed institution. He has been heard to say on many occasions that he continues to collect ghost stories about this historical landmark to this day.

In order to understand the nature of the haunting, it is necessary first to know the past of this extraordinary manor. Edward Lowe and his wife. Susan Blodgett Lowe, purchased the property on which it sits in 1905. Edward was the grandson of Richard Edward Emerson Butterworth. Together with his wife. Susan, they were responsible for the establishment and funding of both Butterworth and Blodgett hospitals in Grand Rapids. Michigan.

The site of their dream home was originally the sixty-nine-acre McCoy dairy farm located on the former Rathbun property. Construction of their home took place on what was then the outskirts of Grand Rapids. The Tudor-style manor took nearly three years to complete. In 1908, Richard and Susan Lowe, along with their teenage son, Edward Jr., seventeen; daughter, Barbara, fifteen; and young son James, age four, were finally able to move into their twenty-two-room landmark house. They named it Holmdene Manor, after 'holm' which is a particular type of oak tree and 'dene' which means estate.

The residence was known in town as being the most elegant abode around. In 1911, two years after Theodore Roosevelt completed his term as president, he visited Grand Rapids for a Lincoln Day address. He stayed as a house guest of the Lowes and slept in a guest room on the second floor.

While reviewing census reports, it became clear that there were always a great number of people living in the manor. According to the 1910 census, the Lowe family had two live-in cooks, one with a six-year-old daughter listed as a boarder: a housemaid: a waitress: a butler; two chambermaids;
a housekeeper; a coachman; a barn keeper; and a launderer. The 1930 census showed that after the Lowe children grew up and moved away from their childhood home, Edward and Susan downsized their live-in help to five servants.

The 1930's brought great heartache to the Lowe family. Susan died on August 1. 1931, at the age of fifty-eight. She passed away peacefully in the garden she adored, a true blessing, as it was one of her favorite places to be. Edward only survived six years without his wife and departed this world to be with her on July 2, 1938.

Less than a year after Edward's death, the Lowe family sold the entire estate' to the University of Grand Rapids in 1939. The college used the building for only a few years before it was forced to close due to financial issues dining the Second World War.

In 1945, the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, a sect that came to Michigan in 1877 to teach in Catholic parish schools, purchased the property. In 1940. the sisters founded Aquinas College, which was named after Saint Thomas Aquinas, an Italian Dominican priest and philosopher. Having outgrown their downtown college grounds located on Ransom Avenue in Grand Rapids, they moved the main campus to this beautiful estate. Under new ownership, the Holmdene Manor came to serve as both the home of the  administration office and additional classrooms for the college.

In 1955, Aquinas expanded its campus and built a new administration building. It was at this time that the manor became the residence of the Dominican Sisters, all of whom taught at the college. In 1980. Holmdene was granted Historic Landmark status. Following this decree, the building
underwent a complete restoration. One year later, it was reopened and used as administration and faculty offices.

Hardly a student on campus will deny having heard about the ghostly activity inside Holmdene Manor. However, with just a little research, I was able to prove that part of the story behind the haunting is nothing more than an urban legend.

If you perform a Google search on the Holmdene haunting, you will run across the exact same tales being retold on many different websites." Follow THIS LINK to read more.

Front elevation, 1906, Edward Lowe estate, Grand Rapids, Mich.

The mature trees in front of the mansion reflected the Lowe family’s lumbering interests and many of the trees on campus are rare species. There was at least one tree of every species that grows in Michigan as well as imported beeches from England, maples from Norway, and many elm trees, later wiped out by the blight.

West Side Garden Elevation, 1906, Edward Lowe estate, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Sid Elevation of Dormer and Chimney, 1906, Edward Lowe estate, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Beginning as the Carriage House for the Lowe family, the Cook Carriage House is home to the Campus Life Office and Moose Café.

The building originally served as the stables for the estate; but after a 1978 fire the stables were rebuilt as the Bukowski Pastoral Center and, eventually, Bukowski Chapel.

The original estate consisted of 69 acres of park, farm, and wooded land and contained a garage, a caretaker's house, a lodge, a two-story storage building, stables, and a 22-room Jacobethan revival manor house. "Holmdene" has English country house architecture characteristic of turn-of-the-century domestic upper-class architecture. Its 22 rooms housed most of the college’s functions in the early years. Included were offices, library, bookstore, with former bedrooms upstairs serving as classrooms. 

The interior of the mansion has many features typical of the transitional era in which it was built, including an elevator, electricity, and heating. There are sixteen fireplaces, each different and beautiful in its own right. The first floor has extensive hand-carving, stained-glass medallions, frescoed ceiling, terra-cotta floors, and quarter-sawed oak, walnut, and circassion paneling. Follow THIS LINK for interior photos.

Holmdene: 100 Years in the Grand Tradition

wikimpaia.org LOCATION. BING.

           The Blissveldt Romance filmed at "Holmdene"