On Tuesday, July 30, community members were invited to the Miller Edison Cottage and Garden in appreciation of their generous philanthropic efforts to preserve and restore the historic cottage and surrounding environs.
The cottage, built in 1875, is named after Lewis Miller, co-founder of Chautauqua Institution. His daughter, Mina Miller, was married to Thomas Edison. Edison, along with the extended Miller family and numerous dignitaries, frequently visited the cottage.
Mina Miller Edison hired Ellen Biddle Shipman, a pioneer landscape architect of the 1920s, to design the cottage’s garden. Shipman designed gardens for prominent families such as the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and the Astors, along with public landscape projects, such as the Sarah P. Duke Garden at Duke University. She also designed a “Moonlight Garden” for the Edisons’ winter home and for Henry Ford’s house in Fort Myers, Florida.
When Mina died in 1947, the cottage went to the family’s estate and was deeded to Nancy Miller Arnn in 1951. It was made a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and has had many visitors. In 2015, thanks to the philanthropy of Tom Hagen, the cottage was purchased by the Chautauqua Foundation from Ted and Kim Arnn, the children of Nancy Miller Arnn. In the time since, several community members have generously stepped up to support the ongoing care and maintenance of the cottage, as well as an extensive restoration of the garden, a major spring and summer 2019 project for Chautauqua’s gardens and landscape crews.
These contributors were thanked at the July reception with a warm welcome from Geof Follansbee, CEO of the Foundation and vice president of development.
“I want to thank all of you because it’s because of you that we are here and that this garden is in the process of coming to full life,” Follansbee said.
He then read a note from Betsy Burgeson, supervisor of gardens and landscapes, who was unable to attend the event.
“Words cannot express the gratitude I have for all the support you have given to this once-in-a-lifetime project,” Burgeson wrote. “What an opportunity your generous donations have provided to me, the gardens crew, but above all else, Chautauqua Institution.”
Follansbee introduced some of the upcoming plans for the garden, such as planting lady slippers and fringed orchids. He also presented a book that is located inside of the cottage that recognizes all of the donors who have contributed to these projects. Follansbee closed by thanking Hagen for his generous gift and welcomed Marta McDowell, garden historian, to speak.
“I’d like to tell you all that you are here for a birth, and it’s the birth of a garden; and I’ll tell you a little story that someone told me,” McDowell said. “Any garden takes three years to really show itself. Year one, it sleeps. Year two, it creeps. And year three, it leaps.”
She said to keep that in mind because the community is going to see extraordinary things happening in the garden in the coming months and years. McDowell was asked to say a few words about the original designer of the garden, so she gave a brief history of Shipman.
Ted Arnn, lifelong Chautauquan, former owner of the Miller Edison Cottage and great-grandson of Lewis Miller, was among those in attendance. He said he thinks the new improvements are fantastic and that Chautauqua will appreciate everything that the cottage and gardens bring to the grounds.
“They really did a beautiful job, (Burgeson) and her crew, and they had the original plans to work from and they really did try to follow that quite accurately, so it’s really going to be nice,” Arnn said. “I think that between the history and the appreciation of the gardens and the environment in general, I think it’ll be very useful to have this.”
Angela James, president of the Bird, Tree & Garden Club, provided remarks after McDowell and noted that BTG offered public tours of the garden each week this summer.
“If Marta walked us through the early years, I’m going to fast-forward us to the 21st century,” James said. “After the generous gift from Tom Hagen to the Foundation, as well as the gifts from all of you, the documents from the Miller Edison household and the archives started to get thoroughly reviewed, and what emerged was the discovery of the original plot map.”
She then explained how experts in Shipman design were hired to review the plans and make recommendations. The recommended plant list meets modern requirements, which take into account restrictions around invasive species and what’s on the New York State “do not plant” list.
“That’s the expertise and incredible work ethic that Betsy (Burgeson) brought to the actual plan,” James said. “The final plant list was agreed upon, the budget, the hardscape and implementation plan was funded and thanks to your generosity, you made it happen.”
James offered her thanks to Burgeson for all of her work on the garden.
“This garden is healthy, it’s wisely planted and well cared for,” James said. “We can’t say enough about Betsy and her crew and the fact that this unique garden completely diversified Chautauqua’s offerings, so thank you.”
Follansbee closed the event by offering a special note of thanks to the volunteer committee that served as advocates for the project and were instrumental in the fundraising efforts over the past couple of years.
“In conclusion, I would just like to raise a glass and raise a toast in appreciation and gratitude for the wonderful future that’s ahead over the next several years as this garden grows and after it’s done ‘creeping,’ ” Follansbee said, “I know it will bring great pleasure to all of Chautauqua for all the years to come.”
edison-cottage to learn more about these projects, or to make a gift or pledge of support. Please contact
foundation@ chq.org or 716-357-6243 with questions.