Queset Garden is a beautiful Italianate style garden and a newly restored historic location that links the Ames Free Library to Queset House.
For insight into the history of Queset Garden, continue reading!
‘A garden is a lovesome thing’ -Thomas Edward Brown
Let’s face it – we are a creative species that are energized and sustained by beauty. Formal gardens have been a necessary aesthetic expression of humans for over four thousand years. Historically, the European style of gardening was developed as a reordering of the surrounding environment, unlike Persian gardens that stood in dramatic contrast to the land, or the highly symbolic gardens of Japan and China.
In the early part of the century, in our little nook of the world, noted Broadway producer and playwright Winthrop Ames was inspired to reorder five acres of wooded space adjoining his charming stone mansion. This was manicured into an elaborate Italianate style garden, replete with ten foot stone columns to mark the entrance, a reflecting pool with fountains and statuary, symmetrical semicircular stone stairs, elegant moon-gates, terraced land, ornate balustrades, and the unique addition of a stage with pergola that reflected Winthrop’s professional interests. It took five hardworking gardeners to maintain this little oasis of calm and beauty.
For twenty six years Queset Garden thrived. Actors such as Leslie Howard and Katharine Cornell were frequent visitors. High school graduation ceremonies were conducted in the garden. Ice cream socials were held. Photographs of Winthrop’s young daughters lounging in the garden evoke a strong sense of nostalgia for an idyllic past.
Fast forward to 2005. Where once was a magical garden, there was nothing left but an angry tangle of brush, bramble, poison ivy, fallen trees, and rampant overgrowth with hints of mortar visible here and there. Winthrop Ames had been dead since 1937, and so it appeared, had his garden.
Omnia transeunt. All things must pass.
Including, fortunately, the forces of decay and destruction.
In 2006 the library bought Queset House with the aim of creating a library campus. The garden was leased from the town as part of the campus, connecting the main library to the mansion. As the formal 99-year lessee of the town-owned land, the library moved quickly to stabilize the area so that the community would not be vulnerable to security hazards. Providentially, Katherine Holland, an Easton resident, had submitted a landscaping design thesis on the restoration of the garden to the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. The thesis became the blueprint for the development of the area. Hardworking Easton volunteers and farseeing members of the library staff and board pushed to find funding to reclaim the wasteland and recreate the beauty begun far back in 1911. The town’s Community Preservation Committee granted funds as did Rick Smith of Forest Systems. Brush was cleared, fallen trees were removed and the garden of yesteryear began to emerge.
It is the year 2011. A hundred years have passed since the birth of the garden and a rebirth is in process. Phase 1 of a three-phased plan to restore Queset Garden has been completed. In the past one year alone, the garden has played host to formal Sweet Sixteen balls, romantic engagement parties, giddy prom photo sessions, glittering galas, music performances, annual lantern walks, and even a Civil War fashion show. It has also nurtured more informal moments of serene contemplation and relaxation for hundreds of Easton residents who sit on the stone benches of the garden, soaking in the summer sun, reading a book, watching over toddlers or just meditating. The space, ensconced as it is, in the heart of historic North Easton and attached to a library that draws an average of 500 people a day, is that rare thing – an accessible public space of soul-soothing privacy.