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Mrs. Perkins' Union College 1895-1904: Walking Tour Vantage Points: Vantage Point 10

This guide includes information organized for an historic tour of Union College that may be accessed via a mobile device and QR codes. See the Mrs. Perkins’ Union College site on the library’s home page for more information about this project.

Vantage Point 10: Mrs. Perkins’ Garden

Mrs. Perkins’ Garden is the last of ten vantage points on a self-guided tour of Mrs. Perkins’ Union College, 1895-1904.  Mrs. Perkins, the wife of Professor of Chemistry Maurice Perkins, lived on campus for nearly sixty years and wrote vivid letters to her son Roger about her life at Union at the turn of the 20th century. These letters were recently donated to the College by a Perkins descendent.  An interactive map of the entire campus in Mrs. Perkins’ day is posted on the Schaffer Library website at http://www.schafferlibrarycollections.org/s/mrs-perkins/page/interactive-map.  The library’s website also includes excerpts from Mrs. Perkins’ letters and additional pictorial, historical, and biographical material as well as further information about this Schaffer Library Digital Project. 

The garden at Union still known as Mrs. Perkins’ is now much reduced in size from the days when she cultivated it. Begun as a vegetable patch in 1866, it was soon taken over by the flowers for which Mrs. Perkins lovingly cared until 1920, almost the entire time she was at Union. Always located on the south side of Old Chapel / Geological Hall, it once stretched further west behind Hale House and it beauty often attracted passers-by and campus visitors.

In her letters Mrs. Perkins frequently wrote about her struggles and progress in the garden.  Sadly, droughts often destroyed many of her plants, yet she still managed to grow tulips, lilies of the valley, irises, dahlias, and clematis, among dozens of others. (A full list of the plants Mrs. mentioned in her letters is available on the library’s website.) She also wrote of her cherry tree, pear tree, and creeper plants as well as the installation of cut stone paths in 1895 and her enjoyment of the birds and butterflies that flew about her plantings. The incursion of others on her garden was not always a source of happiness, however, such as when an electric pole that was needed to provide lighting in the chapel was placed in an unsightly position just outside the garden in January of 1895. But by 1900 she had covered even that eyesore with a climbing shrub.

Every October Mrs. Perkins would pack up her garden until the spring, but the plant room in her house provided flowers in the winter. In 1926, a few years after Mrs. Perkins’s death, her daughter Rose erected a gateway and the commemorative plaque which now hangs outside the wall of the remaining garden. Before the College was gifted with her letters, Mrs. Perkins was best remembered at Union College for her garden; the vivid observations about life on campus that she recorded in her letters for the benefit of her family can now be equally appreciated as part of Union’s history. 

Map links: Mrs. Perkins' Garden