Glimpses of the Past
People, Places, and Things in Letchworth Park History

William Webster

Creator of the Glen Iris Estate

The title of this "Glimpse" might be a bit surprising, for it is generally understood that William Pryor Letchworth was the creator of the Estate which would become Letchworth Park. Indeed, he was the man with the vision (and money) necessary to create the Glen Iris Estate. But Mr. Letchworth needed someone to give his vision life - that man was William Webster. It was Webster that created the Ornamental Farm which became the Glen Iris and the surrounding grounds.

In the Park archives are a few other Webster's plans for Glen Iris Gates, and three pieces of business correspondence between Mr. L. and Webster. His letterhead was very charming and in the header he described himself as a "Landscape Artist".

Little has been known regarding Letchworth landscape architect - his name doesn't even appear in the index of Larned's book. A few documents relating to Webster have been found in the Park's files - Webster's plans for the Glen Iris Gates and three pieces of business correspondence between Mr. Letchworth and Webster. Webster's letterhead identified him as a "Landscape Artist."

The following obituary was discovered by Ted Bartlett in the Rochester NY Union and Advertiser of March 9, 1911 and was sent to us by Leonora Brown. We thank both of them for sharing the information with us.

We have included the entire obituary below:


Was the Oldest Landscape
Gardener and Horticulturist in Rochester.

William Webster, the oldest landscape gardener in Rochester, and one of the oldest in the state and country, died yesterday at his home, 560 North Street, aged 94 years. He is survived by three children, Mrs. Ambia Copthon, of this city, Mrs. Emma Coddington, of Buffalo, and W. H. H. Webster who is the American Consul at Niagara Falls. Mrs. Webster died two years ago.

Mr. Webster was born in Hampstead, England, and came to this country in 1826. He came to Rochester in 1833 and immediately went to work for Nehemiah Goodsell in the Eagle Hotel building, where the Powers Building stands. Goodsell kept a seed store and owned a small nursery. In the nursery young Webster began his education as a training gardener.

In speaking of his coming to this city Mr. Webster said: "In the month of March 1834, the city was visited by a hurricane that swept Alexander Street bare and leveled the forest where Goodman Street is now laid out as cleanly as if a monster scythe had been used."

"Fruit trees in all parts of the city were damaged. Those that remained blossomed out at a proper time and were in full bloom when in the middle of May there was a cold snap and a heavy snowstorm. Of course, there was no fruit that year. I remember the storm perfectly because with a party of young men I hired four white horses and a sleigh and drove up and down Main Street in honor of the event."

"When I came here the place was a village, but was made a city in 1834 and Jonathan Childs was elected mayor. An old Revolutionary soldier named Hall lived in the house that stood where the Sibley house now stands. After leaving Goodsell's employ I went to New York, where I was employed in William Reed's nursery on Murray Hill, where the Murray Hill Hotel now stands. I remained there five years and then came back to Rochester and have been a landscape gardener ever since."

Mr. Webster was proud of his work, but was loath to tell of the many specimens of it which stand to his credit in this and other states. He laid out the grounds of the University of Rochester, Alfred College and Keuka College and designed the entrance to Cornell, Kodak Park, Rochester; Sunset Park, Lookout Mountain; the Assembly Grounds at Monteagle Tenn.; Maplewood Park, Nashville Tenn.; Renwick Park and Villa sites, Ithaca. The grounds surrounding the Custodial Asylum at Newark and the Western House of Refuge at Albion, and many other beautiful parks and grounds, attest his ability.

Mr. Webster was with the late James Vick in Chicago, where he planned and laid out Hyde Park. At that time there was one house in the park, an old stage tavern. Now Hyde Park is one of the most beautiful sections of Chicago. He had a reputation as an author on landscape gardening and architecture. His most important work is entitled, "Webster's Landscape and Oriental Gardener."


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