CHAPTER III. THE FOUNDING OF THE NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN BY THE TORREY BOTANICAL CLUB
No professor of botany was appointed to succeed Torrey at Columbia. Instead, botany was made subordinate to geology under professor John Strong Newberry (1822-1892), a member of the Torrey Botanical Club. Partly as a result, the herbarium of Torrey's fell into neglect as it was largely ignored by the curator in charge. Asa Gray consulted authorities of Columbia College and the Central Park Museum to arrange for the proper care of the Torrey Herbarium which had been slowly deteriorating after Torrey's death.
Gray evidently consulted a young graduate of the School of Mines, an assistant in geology under Newberry, and now serving as botanist and assistant geologist on the geological survey of New Jersey -- Nathaniel Lord Britton, author in 1881 of A Preliminary Catalogue of the Flora of New Jersey. (Rodgers 1944/1968:159) (When Nathaniel Lord Britton came into control and the New York Botanic Garden was established, the Torrey Herbarium was transferred under contract to the Garden.) (Rodgers 1968:159)
Nathaniel Lord Britton was born on Staten Island, New York in 1859 to an old family of landowners on the island. He was five foot three inches tall and weighed less than 110 pounds.
At a ceremony at Bay Terrace, Staten Island a report on a speech by Britton noted that "Dr. Britton had a boyhood intimacy with John J. Crooke (a friend of Dr. Torrey, who at the time of Dr. Torrey's death presented to Columbia College the valuable general herbarium of the Swiss professor Meisner and another large herbarium formed by Dr. Chapman of Apalachicola, Florida) and his visits here at frequent intervals from his birthplace and home at New Dorp, Staten Island, three miles away. It was this acquaintance that led Britton to prepare for the School of Mines of Columbia College. Mr. Crooke told him much about Dr. Torrey and his herbarium, and also of the organization, called the Torrey Botanical Club, founded a few years previously." (Torreya, July-August, 1927: p. 75-76)
From 1875 to 1879 Britton attended the Columbia School of Mines. He was essentially a geologist who had come into botany under the wing of the paleontologist John S. Newberry at Columbia University.
Upon the death of Newberry, Britton (1893) wrote the obituary from which the following information is mostly taken. Newberry was born in Windsor, Connecticut in 1822. In 1846 he graduated from Western Reserve College. In 1848 he received his M. D. Degree. After a brief period abroad, he settled into medical practice in Cleveland, Ohio in 1851.
In 1855, as geologist and botanist, Newberry joined the Lt. Williamson expedition of the Columbia River to find the best path for passage of the Pacific Railroad. Many of the plants of the expedition were worked on by John Torrey. (Britton 1893:90)
Then from 1857 to 1858 he served as physician and naturalist for the Lt. Joseph C. Ives expedition to the Colorado River. The plants collected were worked on by Gray, Torrey and George Englemann (1809-1884).
In 1857 Newberry became professor of chemistry at Columbian University in Washington D.C., but he did not stay long for in 1859 he was in the party of Captain J. N. Macomb going from Santa Fe to the junction of the Grand and Green Rivers of the Colorado.
During the Civil War, he was a member of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. When the war ended he became a professor in the School of Mines at Columbia College. And still he could not sit still, for while at Columbia, in 1869 he took the position of the directorship of the Geological Survey of Ohio.
The minutes of the Torrey meeting of October 29, 1872 noted that John S. Newberry was a visitor. But he was not to remain a visitor long, as he soon became an active member.
The Newberry Crater in central Oregon is named for Dr. John Strong Newberry, a physician and naturalist, who accompanied the 1855 Topographic Corps Expedition, mapping future railroad routes. An important consequence of territorial status for Oregon was the extension of the Pacific Railroad Surveys into Oregon in 1855-56. Funded by Congress and staffed by the Topographical Engineers, this project sought five alternative routes across the continent to connect the Mississippi Valley with the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, the surveyors examined possibilities for north-south connections between the rail lines. Lieutenants Robert Stockton Williamson and Henry L. Abbot directed the surveys through the Willamette and Rogue River valleys and along the eastern flank of the Cascade Mountains. Their handsome reports, accompanied by geological observations by Dr. John Strong Newberry, included hand-colored plates showing the countryside, botanical, zoological, and paleontological collections, and profiles of possible grades for railroad routes.
Newberry had served as surgeon and naturalist of the expedition of Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives which explored a substantial part of the Colorado River. The 1861 report is Newberry's in J.C. Ives' expedition report, which happens to include the first geology of the Grand Canyon. He had also accompanied the exploring party of Captain J. N. Macomb of the Colorado River area. In 1866 he was appointed professor of geology and paleontology in the then recently founded school of mines of Columbia College. (Rodgers 1944/1968: 69)
It was not until the Second Geological Survey of Ohio, begun in 1869, that the state's fossils were first described in detail and fully illustrated. Dr. John Strong Newberry was the Director of the Second Survey. His plan was to publish three volumes on paleontology as companions to volumes on geology. Two of the three paleontology volumes (1873, 1875) were published under Newberry's direction. Portions of the intended third volume were published under the direction of third State Geologist Edward Orton in 1893 as part of Ohio Geological Survey Volume 7.
Newberry was a strong devotee of the Torrey Botanical Club (and was to become its third president). Under the influence of Newberry, Britton probably was encouraged to attend meetings of TBC. The first notice of Britton in the Bulletin of the TBC was in October 1877 when Britton reported on Botrychium lunaria in New York State. From then one he contributed quite a few small reports to the Bulletin. For instance, in September 1878 he presented a list of twenty-one plants from unreported localities on Staten Island.
After his graduation, Britton became Newberry's assistant. From this position he started to organize a future department of botany at Columbia College. He also reorganized Torrey's herbarium. When he finally presented the idea of a botany department to the college officials, it would already be an accomplished fact only needing their approval. This enabled him eventually to become the fourth professor of botany at Columbia College (Rusby 1906: 108).
Not only did Britton get his education and influence via the Torrey Botanical Club, he also most likely met his future wife at TBC meetings. (Tanner and Auchincloss 1991:62) Nathaniel became a TBC member in 1877, while Elizabeth Gertrude Knight (1858-1934) became a member in 1879. They may have met then. Ms. Knight spent her early summers on her grandfather's sugar plantation in Cuba where she learned to speak fluent Spanish. At the age of 17 she graduated from Hunter College and stayed on for awhile as a tutor of natural science. Elizabeth helped with the popularization of moss studies with her articles in The Observer. In 1898 she helped Grout during the early years to found The Bryologist. She also worked somewhat with ferns. She published on the Bolivian collections of Rusby in 1888 and of Bang in 1895. In 1897 she published "A revision of the North American species of Ophioglossum." She contributed to our knowledge of mosses and was the unofficial curator of mosses at Columbia College. She published 346 scientific papers between 1881 and 1930.
Elizabeth Britton is also responsible for the Garden's long-term activity and interest in the West Indies. Elizabeth's paternal grandfather owned a sugar estate in the vicinity of Matanzas, Cuba, and much of her childhood was spent there, where she developed a love of nature, a fascination with "The Pearl of the Antilles," and an easy facility with the Spanish language. Thus, it was natural that once the Garden became interested in exploration beyond North America, it would turn to the Caribbean. Elizabeth's fluency in Spanish facilitated the numerous expeditions that she and Nathaniel Lord Britton would take to Cuba and Puerto Rico, and she so endeared herself to her contacts in Puerto Rico that, upon her death, the governor of the island himself wired condolences to Dr. Britton, and both branches of the Puerto Rican legislature passed resolutions of appreciation and sympathy (Howe, 1934).
Gleason (1943:42) wrote that ". . . let us remember, as Britton himself remembered, that to the Torrey Botanical Club he owed his botanical inspiration and that to the Club he returned his thanks by his final generous provision for its permanent endowment."
Britton graduated from the Columbia School of Mines in 1879. Britton taught geology and botany at Columbia from 1879 to 1896. He was a founder of the Botanical Society of America.
In June of 1879 he announced in the Bulletin "Cyperus. I am studying this genus, and wish specimens from all quarters. Would be glad to exchange. NLB."
In 1880 Prof. Newberry became the third Torrey president and served for ten years.
The first notice of Britton at a Torrey meeting was the December 9 1879 meeting (reported in the January 1880 issue of the Bulletin). Britton exhibited a number of grasses and sedges. At the same meeting Miss Elizabeth Gertrude Knight reported the discovery by her, last August of the rare fern Schizaea pusilla and of Littorella lacustris, both of which she found growing near the shores of Grand lake, Nova Scotia.
From this first notice we hear a lot of Britton in the meeting procedures. In June 1880 it was reported that Britton had read a report in regard to the field meetings that had occurred up to date. P. 61 Also in June of 1880 Britton read a paper on the "Northward Extension of the New Jersey Pine Barrens Flora on Long and Staten Islands."
Nathaniel Lord Britton was actively involved in the Torrey Botanical Club.
In 1882 the Torrey Botanical Club visited Snake Hill among other destinations such as Little Falls and Pleasant Valley, New Jersey and Newton, Long Island, and South and North Yonkers in Westchester County. The field schedules were of 4 pages.
1882? -- Britton becomes a botanist and assistant geologist for the Geological Survey of New Jersey for five years.
1881 Britton. Notes on the Middlesex County, NJ, Flora. Torr. Bull. VIII 7.
1881 Britton. List of NJ Floras and Lists. Torr. Bull. VIII. 81.
1881. Britton. A Preliminary Catalogue of the Flora of NJ -- New Brunswick, NJ 1-233
Britton got his doctorate as a result of his Catalogue of the Flora of New Jersey. Rusby (1906:108) mentions that the TBC helped Britton get the catalogue of New Jersey plants together and that it was a fine example of how botanists working together could produce impressive accomplishments.
The minutes of TBC for February 13, 1883 noted that Nathaniel Lord Britton and Elizabeth G. Knight were both on the Herbarium and Library committees of the organization. In the September 1883 issue of the Bulletin it was mentioned that at the previous meeting EGK had read a paper "On the Fruit of Eustichium norvegicum."
1884. Range of Phorodendron in NJ. Torr. Bull XI., 77
The TBC had a close association with the Natural Science Association. There was a joint field day for the two groups on November 4, 1884 on Princes' Bay, Staten Island.
On August 27, 1885 Britton married Elizabeth Knight. Subsequently they became a botanical couple and Elizabeth developed into a prominent scientist (Barnhart, 1940). She became Editor of the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club in 1886-1888, probably the first woman editor of a scientific journal in North America (Buck, 1996), and a charter member of the Botanical Society of America (Slack, 1987). In her later years she participated in the founding of the Wild Flower Preservation Society of America, even helping to push through conservation measures in the New York legislature.
1887 -- Britton returned to Columbia as an instructor in botany and geology.
They did not list the actual trip leaders until the 1887 field day schedule. In 1887 Nathaniel Lord Britton was on the Field Committee. He also led a considerable number of field trips. He led a trip to Tom's River on May 28, 1887. He led in the same year trips to Little Ferry, Delaware Water Gap, and Coney Island.
In 1888 they announced that a Preliminary Catalogue of Plants Reported as Growing within 100 Miles of New York City: was available for $1.00 dollar.
By 1887 Britton was already beginning to make New York a center of plant taxonomy for the first time since the death of Torrey. (Dupree 402) Britton upset Asa Gray when he made, according to Gray, an unnecessary name change in an issue of the Torrey Botanical Club Bulletin. Britton's use of the name Conioselinum canadense brought a nicely worded, but complaining, letter from Gray to Britton. (Dupree 418) Soon afterwards in 1888 Asa Gray died.
1888 Britton, Plants at Seabright, NJ Torr. Bull XV, 193.
Founding of the NYBG (1891)
It was not Nathaniel Lord Britton who founded the New York Botanical Garden but the Torrey Botanical Club/Society. The Torrey Botanical Club was the powerhouse in botany, not Britton. As Rusby (1906:133) says: "From the publication of the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Coub to the establishment of the New York Botanical Garden, "the history of our Club is practically that of botany in this city, for very little was done that was not directly or indirectly connected with us or, one might say, actually centered about us."
The membership in TBC kept growing: 1885 to 76, 1886 to 89, 1887 to 106, 1888 to 114, 1896 to 191, and by June 1900 to 385.
And botanical gardens were the talk of the period. Businessman Henry Shaw (1800-1889) established a botanical garden in St. Louis, with the advice of George Engelmann, Asa Gray, and J.D. Hooker. The gardens at Harvard after all were often discussed in Newberry's room, during his presidency of the Club (Rusby 1906:138).
The Botanic Garden of Harvard University was established in 1805, but when in 1870 the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard was established the pace of botanical garden foundings really increased. In 1877 the Botanical Garden of Michigan Agricultural College appeared, followed in 1889 by the Missouri Botanical Garden, and in 1893 the Buffalo Botanical Garden.
As early as 1874 the Torrey Botanical Club appointed a committee to act with the New York Pharmaceutical Association in requesting the city to establish a botanical garden in Central Park.
In 1877 a consortium was authorized to issue $25 shares for a public display garden on the fringes of Central Park. The problem was, however, that they could not sell the 14,000 shares. Then in 1883 another attempt was made toward a public garden.
In 1883 others petitioned for new land to serve the city's growing population. As a result, 3,757 acres of largely open land were earmarked under a new parks act for Pelham Bay, Van Courtlandt and Bronx parks. (Tanner & Auchincloss 1991:47)
Secretaries of the club included P. V. Le Roy (1870), Dr. Arthur Hollick (1857-1933), (a former sanitary inspector for New York City who in the middle of his career switched to the study of botany and became on of the leading paleobotanists in America; he wrote a document on Mesozoic and Cenozoic plants and with Jeffrey published in 1909 a study on the lignitized coniferous remains from the Lower Cretaceous Raritan Formation of Staten Island) from Columbia, 1883-1888, Miss Maria O. Steele (1889), Dr. H. H. Rusby of the College of Pharmacy, and E. S. Burgess of the Normal College (1897). Charles Arthur Hollick wrote an 1888 study of the plants within 100 miles of New York City.
In 1876 Henry Hurd Rusby ( -1940) won the prize for the best herbarium at the Philadelphia Centennial for his collection of New Jersey plants. He was a physician but did not practice. He was a professor of botany and later dean of Columbia University College of Pharmacy until his retirement in 1930. Rusby (Gleason 1943:42) made his first appearance in the pages of the Bulletin in 1878. He was a physician but was from a very early age very interested in collecting botanical specimens. Even before receiving his medical degree, he had collected in the southwest of the United States and soon after getting his degree he collected medicinal plants in South America. In all he was to make five explorations of South and Central America. In 1887 he enlisted Britton's help to identify his South American plants. He was to make three subsequent trips to South America. Rusby was for 42 years, a professor and dean at the New York College of Pharmacy.
The New York Botanical Garden would have us believe that it was Britton virtually alone that founded the Garden. The story goes something like this. On a field trip with the Torrey Botanical Club, Britton met a young botanist, Henry Hurd Rusby. They got to talking and Rusby revealed that he had many specimens from South America (of a total of 45,000 specimens.) Britton agreed to try to identify some of the species. To do so he had to go to the Kew Gardens in London. While there on a belated honeymoon in 1888, Mrs. Britton said let's start a botanical garden in New York. Supposedly, on October 24, 1888 she and her husband presented the idea to the Torrey Botanical Club. Britton was only 29 years of age. But the author of this history checked on the original hand-written minutes of the meeting that usually provided more detail than what was actually published in the Bulletin and found no mention at all of the Britton visit to Kew Gardens. There was, however, mention of another visit to England: "Dr. Newberry remarked upon his recent visit to Kew and spoke especially of the admirable series of water color drawings by Miss North . . ." which very accurately depicted the fruits of the plant species.
Rusby was a good friend to Britton. Indeed it was Rusby (Gleason 1943:43) "more than any other one person who fought and worked to prevent the office (of director of NYBG) from being merely another political plum and to effect the appointment of N. L. Britton." But Rusby does not even mention Britton in his account of the founding of the NYBG. Nor does Gleason (1943:43) mention Britton as a founder.
It was actually the coming of the new parks in the Bronx that prompted the move toward a botanical garden. The actual idea of using one of the new Bronx parks for a botanical garden started at a meeting of the Torrey Botanical Club. And the actual story seems to go more like this. The members of the TBC had been wanting a botanical garden for a long time. (Given this situation, the story of the significance of Mrs. Britton's remarks about "Why can't we have something like this in New York?" seems virtually made-up.)
The final impetus for the founding of the garden came not from the Brittons but from several articles written by members of the New York Herald newspaper, November 26 and 27, 1888, calling for the city to establish a botanical garden. The November 26th headline shouted "Great Garden Needed; New York Should Have an Artistic Floral Study Ground; Laggards in Botany."
The November 27th headline screamed: "Our Botanical Weakness; Awaiting the Leadership of a Citizen Who Would Embalm His Name in Flowers." The paper reported that "The Herald was forced to demonstrate yesterday that we are weak in at least one very important feature of our educational facilities . . ." namely a botanical garden. Apparently the Herald did not even know of the existence of TBC, because they asked many different authorities, except for the New York City botanists associated with Torrey.
The Proceedings of the TBC for the November 28, 1888 meeting (Dec. 4, 1888 , v 14, #12 p. 328) mention that: "Mr. Hollick called attention to the recent articles published in the New York Herald, urging the establishment of a great botanical garden in one of the new parks. The subject was discussed by several members, the great desirability of such an establishment being generally conceded, and a resolution approving the movement was adopted."
Hollick stated the he had written a letter to the Herald calling attention to the existence of the Club and promising cooperation in the endeavor. Mr. Hollick gave a brief review of the early efforts of the Club in the same direction and Mr. Hogg followed with an account of similar efforts on the part of the New York Horticultural Society. A committee of three (Sterns, Hollick, and Newberry) was appointed to look further into the matter. Rubsy (1906:138) mentioned that Dr. Arthur Hollick got the authorization by the TBC to write to the Herald and endorse the ideas in the letters. His response appeared on December 2, 1888.
On December 2, 1888 Arthur Hollick's letter was published. The Herald made the comment that the TBC endorsed the Herald's efforts upon behalf of a botanical garden in New York City. It further said that President J. Hampden Bobb of the Park Department was expected to work with the TBC.
A committee was appointed to establish a similar institution in New York. Members of the committee were Dr. Hollick, professor Newberry, and Mr. Emerson Ellick Sterns (Rusby 1906:139). Mr. Sterns was made chairman of the committee. Along with Dr. Hollick, Emerson Ellick Sterns wrote an 1888 study of the plants within 100 miles of New York City Later the committee was enlarged to eight members. At the January 8, 1889 meeting Mr. Sterns read the appeal prepared by the Committee and it was adopted (Bulletin, Feb 1889 p. 59).
Members of the TBC Botanic Garden Committee met on February 6, 1889 (letter in the TBS archives) at the office of Columbia College. Six of the eight members were present, including chairman E. E. Sterns, John S. Newberry, N. L. Britton, H. H. Rusby and Thomas Hogg. The Committee "resolved to begin at once a resolute and concerted effort to raise by popular subscription the sum required by the Park Commissioners as a preliminary to the appropriation of a site. The subscription paper adopted cites from the official minutes of the Park Board the resolution of January 24 in favor of providing adequate space' in one of the new parks for a botanic garden if at' any time during 1889 or 1890 any individual or association shall provide sufficient means for its establishment and states that the sufficient means' required is one million dollars, to be subscribed by the friends of the movement" upon certain terms or conditions. The committee members agreed that they preferred as a site for the new garden the one in the lower Bronx . . . "At present it is temporarily designated as the Bronx Botanical Garden. Ultimately it may be known as the Torrey Garden . . ." or be known by the name of someone who provided "a single munificent gift" to establish the Garden.
A committee of other members of TBC agreed that New York deserved "a public botanic garden of the highest class." They cautioned that its primary purpose should be scientific and educational, but admitted that it could also be "a place of agreeable resort for the public at large."
Most of the professors did not know how to go about getting support for the proposal. But, fortunately, there were some members of the Club who were of influence, including Addison Brown, Charles P. Daly, Charles F. Cox, and William Dodge (Rusby 1906:139). Addison Brown (1830-1913) co-wrote an 1888 study of the plants within 100 miles of New York City.
Charmingly, Rusby (1906:139) says that: "Finally, it was remembered that all history teaches that when you have wearied of discussing a project, and are at length really resolved to carry it out, you must call in the assistance of the women." So a "ladies' committee" was appointed and Rusby writes that this gave the "final impetus" that was needed.
At the April 9, 1889 meeting the president appointed the field committee, among the members thus appointed being H. H. Rusby and Elizabeth Britton. One of the places the field group went was to the Bronx Park on May 11, 1889. Miss E. Cannon was appointed as guide. "This meeting was of special importance, as it enabled the members to survey the site which has been deemed most appropriate for the New York Botanical Garden." They found, among other species, Corydalis sempervirens, Myrica cerifera, Ranunculus pennsylvanicus and R. septentrionallis, Staphylea trifolia, and Viola pedata. As is well known, unfortunately, we would not find most of these species in the NYBG natural areas today. (Report of the Field Committee for the year 1889 in the Bulletin of the TBC, May 1890).
In 1889 the TBC launched the "Appeal for a Public Garden in New York City." Mr. Sterns (January 23, 1889 TBC meeting) "reported that copies of the appeal for a Botanical Garden had been distributed. He gave some account of the universally favorable comments of the press. On motion it was resolved by the president and instructed to make every reasonable effort to advance the project of a public garden in New York City."
In the same year, at an April 9th meeting, Mrs. Britton along with Rusby were appointed to the field committee by the President Newberry. During these years Mrs. Britton led TBC field trips to South Amboy, Prince's Bay, and Grassmer, Staten Island. Dr. Britton led trips to Fort Lee and Crugers and Verplanck's Point, New York. Dr. H. H. Rusby led four field trips. A similar story could be told for 1890 and 1891.
The Club's Memoirs commenced in 1889 with a volume containing "Studies of Some Types of the Genus Carex" by Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr. Its Bulletin and later Journal appeared.
Around 1890 Judge Addison Brown became the third president and also served at least until 1904. Judges Addison Brown and Charles Daly drew up the legislative act. In 1891, the state Legislature incorporated the New York Botanical Garden, specifying that it be on 250 acres of Bronx Park if $250,000 was raised.
TBC had already supported a city plan for a botanical garden in Central Park. But they soon warmed to the idea of a garden in the Bronx. They also got help from the New York Pharmaceutical Association and the American Museum of Natural History.
It was from the councils of the Torrey Botanical club that the society of the NYBG took rise.
On April 28, 1891 the Governor of New York approved the bill to incorporate the garden. But the governor had a provision. They would have to raise $250,000 in total. At the meeting of April 12, 1892, it was agreed that the Committee on the Botanical Garden should be enlarged to eleven members.
With this legislative action, the NYBG was established. In other words, NYBG was founded and that credit goes to TBC. What future "historians" chose to ignore this founding and played up the role of Britton in getting the $250,00 as the "founding." It is almost as if in American history the historians chose to say that our first president was also the founder of our country. Nobody would deny that George Washington of Mount Vernon, Virginia was an important part of the founding of the nation, but no good historian would make such a claim. It would deny credit to all those who sacrificed to found this country including Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, only to mention a few. This kind of distortion of history is ultimately not true and totally misleading and just not fair.
Judge Addison Brown gave $25,000. Other persons providing funds included J. Pierpont Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, William Henry Vanderbilt, and John D. Rockefeller.
Once the garden was founded by legislation, the next task was to raise the money. At this Britton was probably more influential, but this is not the founding and certainly members of the Torrey Botanical Club were just as active. It must also be remembered that Britton probably rightfully thought that he had a good shot at becoming the director of the NYBG, so naturally he worked very hard.
The committee, of which Britton was a member, contacted wealthy and influential citizens to back the plan, and the Parks Department agreed to set aside space in any city park if a private group provided the funds to run such a garden. The committee agreed that Central Park was centrally located, but it was far too crowded for the purpose.
Torrey devotees published appeals in the newspapers and placed posters around town. The ladies of the club, led by Elizabeth Britton, mounted a campaign of luncheons, teas and dinners in the homes of New York's wealthiest patrons. Among the speakers were the 30 year old NL Britton who was about to be promoted to professor of botany at Columbia College. (Tanner and Auchincloss 1991: 48)
The corporation elected Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and Morgan as principal officers. The corporation's new secretary was N. L. Britton. They would meet in the office of Seth Low, president of Columbia College. Fifty women of wealth met at the residence of Mrs. Gen. Lewis Fitzgerald (a member of Torrey since Feb 14, 1888) and listened to Bishop Henry Potter stress the "elevating influence of the ministry of flowers in life." They were set back by the Panic of 1893, but persisted through and had raised the necessary money by 1895. (Tanner and Auchincloss 1991:49 & 51)
In May of 1896 during a fact-finding mission to the site, the directors met on one of Vanderbilt's trains en route to the Bronx and appointed N. L. Britton director-in-chief. There are some articles that claim that the Vanderbilt and Morgan crowd, along with Britton, were the founders of the NYBG.
Nathaniel Lord Britton taught at Columbia University until 1896. 1896 Britton became director in chief. From that year until his retirement in 1929 he was director of the New York Botanical Garden, overseeing its growth into a major institution.
In 1897 the New York State legislation reserved 39 acres for a botanic garden in Brooklyn. On the last day of 1897, ground was broken for the construction of the Museum Building. The Parks Department provided the land, and work began. Living trees were labeled; dead trees were removed. A topographical survey was made, a temporary nursery begun, and, in 1897, the grounds were planted. The museum was completed in 1899, and the Torrey Botanical Club donated its library and herbarium to it.
The Conservatory was built in two stages between 1899 and 1902 by Lord & Burnham, the premier greenhouse firm of its day, at a cost of $177,000. Inspired by Decimus Burton's classic Palm House of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England and Sir Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, built for the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, the Italian Renaissance iron and glass building was designed as a display house and museum for living plant collections.
In the TBC archives files the first booklet (1891) announcing regular meetings came out under secretary Maria O. Steele. Also in this year they started meeting at Hamilton Hall, Columbia University, instead of at the Columbia Herbarium.
Britton gave a talk on the "Report on the Progress of Work at the New York Botanical Garden." When? Probably at the meeting of May 11, 1897.
Roland M. Harper (1945) (a president of TBC 1914-1916) wrote in his reminisences that he came to Columbia University in the fall of 1899. He remembers that at that time the main building of the NYBG was not quite complete, but the herbarium and exhibits were being moved into the building. He added that Drs. Britton and Small and George V. Nash, the head gardener, had already established homes nearby. He added that they and Dr. P. A. Rydberg were on the grounds much of the time getting things in order. The first grand scale exploration of the West Indian area was carried out by N. L. Britton along with G. V. Nash and many others. It became the basis of Britton's 1918 Flora of Bermuda.
Harper went to a meeting of the TBC. He noted that "The members do not smoke during the meetings. (Perhaps on account of the presence of ladies, who were -- and I believe still are -- barred from membership in the New England Botanical Club.) There were one or two, possibly more, tobacco addicts at this meeting, but in those days no gentleman would have ventured to smoke in the presence of ladies."
At that October 2 meeting Harper wrote that it "was mostly devoted to reports of the excursions of the club since its last meeting in May. They get up excursions to various points within 50 miles or so about every week in the season. From these reports I learned of a lot of interesting plants that grow around here."
At a meeting held on October 11, 1898 Britton spoke of the progress made at NYBG, especially in the advancements made on the museum building. He also reported the prosperous condition of the herbaceous grounds, now with over 2,700 species. He said that on one day the NYBG had received some 4,000 visitors.
Dr. Britton called attention to the expected opening of the Museum of the Botanical Garden in December, and suggested that it might be appropriate that the first scientific meeting to be held there be that of the Torrey Botanical Club, the Club having made the first movement toward starting the botanical garden. (Meeting of October 10, 1899)
In a meeting held on February 28, 1900 Dr. Britton told the Torrey attendees he had received the keys to the Museum Building and that the building was now open to the public. "President Addison Brown added that the Torrey Club congratulates itself on the progress of the Botanical Garden, progress which is in large part the result of the Club's influence."
To further make sure the ties between TBC and NYBG remained close, on April 25, 1900 Britton proposed that the upcoming meeting of May 8, 1900 be held in the lecture hall of the Museum Building at NYBG. The idea was approved. The talk given was by Marshall Avery Howe (1867-1936) on "The Hepaticae." Still on the same theme, at the May 30, 1900 meeting it was resolved that the regular meeting of the second Tuesday in October and November be held at the NYBG Museum building.
On December 11, 1900 Torrey attendees met at NYBG and were given a tour of the conserva-tories and the grounds by Britton. This was followed by a brief address by Professor Charles Edwin Bessey (1845-1915). At the meeting per se the committee on program was authorized to announce that one meeting of the Club monthly would be held at NYBG.
THE BRITTONS: NOT THE FOUNDERS
The NYBG historians do a kind of special pleading. No one doubts that the Brittons were a crucial part of the overall establishment of the NYBG but to say that N. L. Britton was the founder is to go too far. These NYBG historians only emphasize what the Drs. Britton did and de-emphasized what other members of the TBC did to found the NYBG.
Those authors pleading the case that the Brittons were the founders of the NYBG keep mentioning that while Britton and his wife were on a late honeymoon visit to Kew, Elizabeth asked: "Why couldn't we have something like this in New York?" Supposedly, once back in the United States Britton gets a committee of the Torrey Botanical Club to consider it. Well, the author of this history went to the original hand-written minutes for this period and there simply is no mention of the Brittons mentioning anything about founding a botanical garden in New York City.
If the reader is still skeptical, perhaps he/she will believe Britton himself. In an article entitled "Botanical Gardens: Origin and Development" Britton (1896:344) wrote about the New York Botanical Garden that "The enterprise was inaugurated and the legislation procured by a committee of the Torrey Botanical Club, appointed in 1889."
BRITTON'S CONTRIBUTION TO BOTANY
Under Britton's skillful direction, the Columbia College Herbarium, composed of Torrey's, Mesiner's, Chapman's, Austin's, Newberry's, and other herbaria, the herbarium was combined by a cooperative agreement with the New York Botanical Garden during the last years of the century. (Rodgers 1968:313) In 1896, when Nathaniel Lord Britton (1859-1934) became the first director of the newly established New York Botanical Garden, he arranged to have transferred the university's herbarium of some 400,000 specimens, along with Torrey's library. Both arrived in 1899. New York was suddenly able to take a botanical lead.
1889 -- Catalogue of Plants found in NJ. Final Report of the State Geologist, Vol. II, pt. I. Trenton. 1-642
Britton appeared at a time of revolt against the domination of
botany by Asa Gray. As part of this revolt he needed backing and
this came through the New York Botanical Garden.
Systematic botany had been centered in Cambridge for 30 years primarily under Asa Gray, and its position had never been challenged. Few botanists attempted to work on the plants of North America without Gray's prior approval, and consequently he could influence what was done. To some extent, Gray dominated what was published by controlling the publications. And because Gray had on hand one of the largest libraries and collections of American plants immediately at hand, he was quickly able to settle identification disputes.
To many working in the American West, however, there was no joy in collecting a novelty if its publication was delayed because Gray or Watson already had specimens but had not yet published the name. Equally troublesome was the assumption that those in the East could somehow prevent those in the West from publishing their findings. At the forefront of the western dissidents was Edward L. Greene (1843-1915), minister, college professor, and protagonist. Greene had a keen eye for botanical novelties and a good knowledge of the classical literature. He was a "splitter," the antithesis of Gray and his followers, and he was not opposed to taking up the earliest available, validly published name, particularly names that Gray had chosen purposely to ignore.
Another botanical irritant was Marcus Eugene Jones (1852-1934), mining engineer, botanist, and Latinist. Jones collected widely in the Intermountain West, finding many locally endemic plants among others.
Individually and in the problems they jointly caused, Greene and Jones initiated the end of Gray's domination. Their defiance took two forms: first, they worked with the Smithsonian and the California Academy of Sciences, both institutions trying to proclaim their own independence; and second, they established their own journals. They therefore had means to publish names, and they had institutions from which to work.
In 1881 Green declared a virtual declaration of independence for California botany. In February 1881 he published a new Asclepias in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club in New York despite Gray's advise that it was not new. (Dupree 1959:396)
By 1892 he led a full-fledged revolt in drawing up the so-called Rochester Code (or the American Code), which led eventually to a distinctive American Code of nomenclature. Asa Gray and his Harvard successors continued to follow the International Rules even at the height of the American Code's popularity. (Dupree 402)
With the backing of Addison Brown (1830-1913), Britton published An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States... (ed. 1, 3 vols., New York, 1896-1898) for the very region for which Gray's Manual had long been the primary authority. The sixth edition of the Manual (New York and Chicago, 1890), by Watson and Coulter, continued Gray's format of a single, tightly concise volume with keys to all taxa, brief descriptions, limited synonymy, habitat data, and distribution notes. Instead, Britton provided expanded keys, full descriptions, rather complete synonymy, and illustrations of each species. Furthermore, Britton produced his own one-volume Manual... in 1901 (New York). Unlike his competitors at Harvard, Britton accepted many of Greene's reestablished genera and used species names long since ignored by Gray. Britton's concept of species was similar to that of Gray, but wherever a split might be possible, Britton would make it, whereas Gray would not. (http://www.inform.umd.edu/PBIO/usda/fnach7.html; University of Maryland, 7. Taxonomic Botany and Floristics in North America North of Mexico: A Review)
The publication battle was fierce. Britton issued new editions of his Manual in 1905 and 1907 (both New York); Benjamin L. Robinson (1864-1935) and Merritt Lyndon Fernald (1873-1950) answered with the seventh edition of Gray's Manual in 1908 (New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago). This was countered in 1913 by a second edition of Britton and Brown's Illustrated Flora (New York). Likewise, both sides began to marshal supporters at other institutions and began to stake claims to portions of the United States.
The scientific staff of the New York Botanical Garden was largely derived from the faculty of the Department of Botany of Columbia College (now Columbia University). As a consequence, the initial staff of the Garden was heavily weighted toward bryology. When the Garden actually began a scientific program in 1901, Lucien Marcus Underwood (1853-1907) and Marshall Avery Howe (1867-1936) joined as part of the Columbia faculty. Early in their careers, both of the scientists specialized in hepatics, but both moved on to other specialties at about the time of the founding of the Garden.
In 1884 Lucien Marcus Underwood (1853-1907) published the Descriptive Catalogue of the North American Hepaticae North of Mexico. He also published Our Native Ferns and How to Study them. Professor Underwood suggested the idea of a "North American Flora" to Britton and in 1896 joined the staff of NYBG and initiated work on the Pteridophyta for that project. He contributed the Pteridophyta treatment in Britton and Brown of 1896. Underwood was Torrey professor and head of the Department of Botany at Columbia University. He was also chairman of the Board of Scientific Directors at NYBG, a vice-president of TBC and editor in chief of the Club's publications (1898-1902). Underwood's hepatic work flourished between 1882 and 1896. Thereafter he worked primarily on pteridophytes. However, his hepatic herbarium, rich in California Hepaticae, came the Garden. Howe's hepatic activity also dramatically waned about the time of the Garden's founding and he subsequently shifted his research interests to marine algae (Stout, 1937). Again, though, his herbarium became part of the Garden's legacy. Additionally, even John Kunkel Small (1869-1938) dabbled in bryology, issuing moss exsiccatae.
Despite the abandonment of bryology by Underwood and Howe, the Garden still had an active bryological program with Elizabeth Gertrude Knight Britton and Robert Statham Williams (1859-1945). Mrs. Britton for her entire tenure at the Garden, was unpaid but maintained the title of Honorary Curator of the Mosses (Howe, 1934).
In the 1880s and 1890s the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club had "become without doubt the leading American outlet of taxonomic research." (Gleason 1943:36) In addition, the Memoirs were also primarily devoted to taxonomy. Gleason showed by way of graphs how the percentage of pages in the Bulletin devoted to taxonomy decreased for 92 percent in 1870 to 50 percent in 1890. Then under the influence of Britton, Small, and Rydberg the percentage went up to 75 percent by 1897. Since then it declined again to around 30 percent in the 1930's. (Gleason 1943: 38)
Britton was the New York Botanical Garden's first director and until his retirement in 1929 had a major part in its growth. His own contributions, chiefly in the field of tropical botany, include hundreds of thousands of specimens, many of great rarity, gathered on his trips to the tropics. The genus Brittonella is named for him.
His chief work was An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada, and the British Possessions (with Addison Brown, 189698. Judge Addison Brown's chief contributions were financial because he assumed the financial responsibilities for the publication of the volumes. Britton also wrote The Bahama Flora (with C. F. Millspaugh, 1920); and four volumes on cacti (with J. N. Rose, 191923).
The group at New York was very productive. John Kunkel Small (1869-1938) completed the first edition of his 1400-page Flora of the Southeastern United States... (New York, 1903), with full keys, good descriptions, habitat and distribution data, and an occasional illustration. Per Axel Rydberg (1860-1931), despite his lameness, collected from 1891 until 1930. He produced catalogs of the plants of Montana (New York, 1900) and Colorado (Fort Collins, 1906) in the abbreviated style of the Smithsonian publications. They were much in the manner of his first two floristic efforts, on the Sand Hills of Nebraska (1895) and on the Black Hills (1896), published in the Contributions. His Flora of the Rocky Mountains and Adjacent Plains... (New York, 1917) and his posthumous Flora of the Prairies and Plains of Central North America... (New York, 1932), however, were more akin to Small's works.