Thursday, January 2, 2014

Woodlawn - Black House, Ellsworth, ME

The Woodlawn - Black House Estate near Ellsworth, its museum, gardens and park provide an enticing glimpse into the history of Maine. Bequeathed to the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations in 1928, it has since been continuously maintained for public enjoyment. I visited Woodlawn in May, 2013. Follow me to see what grows behind its garden wall.

Woodlawn - Black House, Ellsworth, ME

Maine is rich in natural resources, among which are timber, fisheries, minerals and water. Combined, these contribute to its scenic beauty. Yet, the first attempts to populate the area were based upon perceived agricultural potential. Maine possesses little of it. The early attempts failed.

Men like John Black, however, recognized the great potential for timber production. They grew wealthy and influential developing it. Even today, timber covers about 90% of the state.

John Black (1781-1856), born in London, England, began to distinguish himself in his late teens as a talented entrepreneur. His patriotic service during the War of 1812 gained him more admiration. Black is now recognized for "helping launch Maine's lumbering industry."

Black House was built between 1824 and 1827 in the Federal style with elements of the Greek Revival style. It's a handsome mansion of Philadelphia red brick containing furnishings and ephemera from as early as the 17th century.

Formal garden. Woodlawn - Black House, Ellsworth, ME

The formal garden behind the home is hedged with fragrant lilacs and furnished with sculpture. Simple arches allow entrance. Plantings include popular perennials such as daylilies (Hemerocallis), hostas, Bearded Iris (Iris germanica), Variegated Bishop's Weed (Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum'), Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina), Cheddar Pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) and Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis).

Fiddlehead ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis), more hostas, and Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) graced planting beds near the carriage house and sleigh barn. There is a cutting garden behind the sleigh barn. Our doggy companion was more interested in Woodlawn's dog house. By the way, you'll want to see Woodlawn's collection of carriages and sleighs.

The community garden is a newer development which provides plots for local gardeners who lack space enough to grow their own fruits and vegetables. I enjoyed a brief but delightful visit with local ladies tending their gardens. They were quick to advise me what hardware store I might visit to experience a bit of old-time Maine. My son commented they must not be real Mainers since they were so quick to share information.

It interested me that seaweed was a primary fertilizing mulch in the community garden. Not surprising, though, since Ellsworth is near the Maine coast.

More was in bloom beyond the gardens. Apple blossoms shed their petals upon the fresh, green grass. Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) and Sweet Violets (Viola odorata) sprouted in the lawn.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea)
Woodlawn is home to one of Maine’s finest championship-sized croquet courts. Some gentlemen were sharpening their skills for the upcoming fifth annual Maine/New Hampshire State Croquet Tournament, held June 20-24.

Trails around Woodlawn allow visitors to round out their exercise with some hiking. Kiosks give directions. Farm artifacts provide interest and good excuses to pause occasionally.

As in much of New England, stone walls define Woodlawn's boundaries. There are about a mile and a half of them. They bear testimony to Woodlawn's origin as a gentleman's farm. Even gentlemen were sometimes exposed to the back-breaking labor of clearing land of rocks for planting.

Stone wall, Woodlawn - Black House, Ellsworth, ME
The grounds at Woodlawn are open from dawn to dusk year around with no admission charge. Admission is charged for house tours. Regular season for visiting the Black House runs from May to October. Christmas at Woodlawn runs from December 1 to 23.

Take your picnic basket when the weather warms. I suggest you go to Rooster Brother for fresh bread, cheese, and whatever else you might find to make a good picnic. After your picnic, stop by Mortons Moo for ice cream. (FYI, I have no connection to Rooster Brother or Mortons Moo, and gain nothing by recommending them. I like them very much. That's all.)

As I write this, Maine is covered up with snow. Take note of moose crossing signs. Moose may not be far off the road. If you visit Woodlawn in winter, take your snowshoes. You might find snowshoes and other winter apparel behind the big boot at L. L. Bean. (I don't have any relationship with L. L. Bean, either. I simply like their stuff.)

For more about Maine's history and the Black House, be sure to read Woodlawn - An Estate Of History.

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