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Friday, January 2, 2015

MI Garden History: Dow Gardens - Midland MI

Michigan is a wonderful state for gardening!  There are four seasons, plenty of water and a wide variety of plants that grow in this climate.

Michigan also has a rich history starting with  settlement by the American Indians, the French, the British, continuing through the fur trade, colonization, a war with Ohio over state borders, the logging industry, the rail industry, the auto industry and several national wars.

So what about gardening history in Michigan?  I plan to explore this question by posting about the history of at least 3 of our state gardens each year.  Starting now!


Garden Overview:

Address & Contact Information:
Established: 1899 by Herbert  H. and Grace A. Dow

Facilities:  112 acres of grounds, arboretum, conservatory, children’s garden, herb garden, maze, perennial garden, rock garden, rose garden, sensory garden, test garden, wildflower garden, Herbert Henry Dow House, Alden B. Dow Home & Studio, Whiting Forest, library, classroom, reading room, gift shop

Special Collections: crab apple, juniper, pine, rhododendron, 300 species of cultivars in the test garden

Herbert Henry Dow is the founder of Dow Gardens.  He is best known as a chemical industrialist who founded the Dow Chemical Company on May 18, 1897.  The company grew over time to become the multi-billion-dollar industry that it is today.
Herbert H. Dow 
Herbert Henry Dow was born on February 26, 1866 in Belleville,Ontario, Canada.  Even from childhood, Herbert was a very curious and inventive boy.  He and his grandfather Captain Bunnell loved plants and gardening.  He also loved to invent things.  When he was 12 years old, Herbert moved with his family to Cleveland Ohio where his father worked as a mechanical engineer.  Herbert would often work along side his father and learned to invent from him.  Herbert’s first childhood invention was an incubator for chicken eggs.  He even managed to market a kit for the incubator on a small scale.

From 1884-1888, Herbert went to CaseSchool of Applied Science where he majored in Chemical Engineering.  It was here that he became interested in the chemical bromine, one of the first chemicals extracted by Dow Chemical Company. 

After graduation in 1888, Herbert taught at Huron Street Hospital College in Cleveland, Ohio.  During this time, he studied more about bromine.  He learned that bromine was a bi-product of the brine produced during mining in the oil industry. He became obsessed with learning a way to purify the bromine from the salts of the brine.   Bromine was later to be used as a component of pharmaceuticals, a component of dyes, photograph development, to make pesticides, as a fire retardant, and as an additive to stabilize gasoline.

In 1889 Dow sought funding to open a plant to extract bromine from brine.  He opened a plant in Canton Ohio which was a total flop!  The brine in Canton Ohio was too far under ground, and was expensive to pump out of the earth.  Dow also had not perfected his extraction process, and to top it off, his partners were afraid of electricity (a crucial component of the extraction process)!

So, in 1890, Herbert decided to move to Midland, Michigan.  In Midland, the brine was closer to the surface of the earth and also contained a high percentage of bromine.   By 1891 Dow's Midland plant had produced its first bromine via a chemical “blowing out process.”

Grace A. & Herbert H. Dow
From 1891-92 Dow sought funding to keep his company running and to perfect his process.  He also began courting Miss Grace Ball (b.1869-d.1953).  In November of 1892, Herbert and Grace got married.  They went on to have 8 children: Mary, Dorothy, Helen, Ruth, Willard, Alden, Margaret, and Osborne. (Osbourne unfortunately died in infancy. The other 7 lived into adulthood .)

In 1895, Dow also began trying to extract chlorine from the brine, in addition to the bromine.  This was so that he could produce and sell bleach.  Unfortunately, this did not end well. On January 22, 1895 his plant exploded!

Undaunted, Herbert Dow went on to build a new company in 1896.  With this company he perfected the chlorine and bromine extraction processes. Then, on  May 18, 1897, Dow Chemical Company was officially established. By January 1898, Dow was able to sell his first bleach. 
The original Dow Chemical Company, Midland, MI in the 1890's
 From 1898 to 1914 the Dow Company had financial ups and downs.  Herbert continued to experiment and learn new ways to extract chemicals.  By 1913 he was extracting 5 separate chemicals from the brine.  These were sold to industrial companies and used to make a wide variety of household products

By 1899 Herbert Dow had acquired enough wealth to buy the land and build the house where Dow
Dow's home before the gardens were added.
Gardens is now located.

In 1900, Dow hired Elzie Cote as chief gardener.  According to Elzie, “Dr. Dow, myself and our small group of willing helpers raised every hill on the property, dug the winding, twisting artificial lake a half mile long, planted... mostly native trees and shrubs. We also planned or planted the two-hundred-odd varieties of annual and perennial flowers...” 

Dow’s special interest was in fruit and fruit trees.  He planted 40 varieties of plums and many, many different types of apple.

On July 28, 1914 World War I broke out in Europe.  Among other problems caused by the war, the supply of indigo dye from Germany to the United States came to a halt.  Fortunately, Dow was available to supplement the supply of chemicals used to make this dye.  This allowed Herbert to make buckets of money.

By 1916 the Dow Company was experiencing a boom in sales.  Dow was selling chemicals to the U.S. government for use in explosives, to varnish airplane wings, as solvents, as salts, as aspirin, as insecticides... the list goes on and on!

On November 11, 1918 World War I came to an end.  Dow Chemical had to be downsized, primarily due to the Great Depression that followed.  Even so,  Herbert continued company research on magnesium and other chemicals.  Dow's magnesium was used to make pistons on automobiles and as a component for gasoline stabilizer.

Dow Gardens 2011
Dow also continued working on his gardens.  By 1922 they were considered a show place, especially with regard to his apple orchards.  From 1922-1923 Herbert and Grace took an ocean trip to Japan for vacation.  While traveling they met with Paul Tonow aboard the ship.  Paul was a landscape artist who was renowned for his work on Tokyo parks.  Dow, impressed by Tonow, hired him to work on his land.  So, in 1925 Tonow came and designed for Dow Gardens.  The Japanese influence can be easily recognized in the layout of the gardens as well as in the use of water features and evergreens.

As a kind gesture to his community, Dow continued to pay Paul Tonow to design gardens for interested residents of Midland – free of any charge to them.  By doing this, Dow and Tonow helped to beautify the greater Midland area.

In 1925, Dow also commissioned architect Bloodgood Tuttle to design the Midland Courthouse.  He hired artists from New York City and Detroit to paint lovely murals for the courthouse as well.

Dow Gardens 2011
Unfortunately Herbert Dow became sick in with cirrhosis of the liver.  Doctors attempted to perform surgery on his liver, but it was unsuccessful.  He died on October 15, 1930 shortly after surgery. 

After his death, Grace Dow created the Herbert H. and Grace. A. Dow Foundation in memory of her husband and to maintain the Dow Gardens. Grace was a trustee of the foundation until her death in 1953.

Herbert and Grace’s son Willard (b.1897-d.1949) went on to take over the Dow Chemical Company, beginning on October 20, 1930.  Willard continued to guide the company to its current success.

 The Dow’s other son, Alden (b.1904-d.1983), had no interest in chemicals.  In 1933, Alden went to school and studied under Frank Lloyd Wright to become an architect. Alden also became very interested in the Dow Gardens.  In 1973 Alden redesigned much of the Dow Garden grounds. He enlarged the ponds, added a small stream and waterfall, added the 2 red bridges and the white bridge.  He also designed and built the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio on the grounds.   This unique house became a National Historic Landmark in 1989.  The house and gardens can be toured to this day.

Today, the garden is primarily funded and run by the trustees of The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation with additional support form volunteers. According to the foundation website, "The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation is the sixth largest foundation in Michigan, and since its establishment, has granted over $477 million to worthy programs and projects in Michigan."  Many of the changes and additions made to the garden since Herbert Dow's time were made via the foundation.  These include additions such as the children's garden as well as the continued experimentation in the trial gardens.

  So what are you waiting for!?! Go visit Dow Gardens!!!  (For more information, scroll down)
Alden B. Dow Home & Studio

Water fall added by Alden Dow in 1973
Bridge added by Alden Dow in 1973

For more information about Herbert Dow, his family and his gardens please check out the following (works cited):

Please use the Amazon link below the works cited to find the books!

Martin,Laura C. Gardens of the Heartland. Abbeville Press 1996. Pgs.150-155.

Spencer,Thomas S.  et. al.,  Gardens Across America Volume I East ofthe Mississippi. Friar’s Lantern Inc. 2005.  Pg. 192.

Whitehead, Don.  The Dow Story: The History of the Dow Chemical Company. McGraw-Hill Inc. 1968.   (This is the book from which came most of the historic information as well as the black and white pictures shown in this blog.)

The Alden B. Dow Home and StudioWebsite. Active 1/1/2015. 

The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation Website - History.  Active 1/1/15. 

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1 comment:

  1. Elzie Cote was my Great-Grandfather. I have the original article written about the starting of the garden "Today I planted a garden".