Dec 16th, 2014

Conservatory Tree Takes a Stroll Down Memory Lane

The Conservatory Tree in the North Wing is one of our most elaborate holiday trees ever at Dominion GardenFest of Lights. This year, in an effort to commemorate the Garden’s 30th Anniversary and reflect on our rich history the Conservatory Tree is filled with symbolic ornaments and icons that take visitors on a tour through the Garden’s past.

Who Was Lewis Ginter?

Lewis Ginter was one of the foremost citizens of late 19th-century Richmond, his adopted home. The ornaments on this year’s North Wing tree symbolize various stories from his fascinating life. Enjoy the tree, and follow Lewis Ginter’s story as you find the ornaments shown here.
Lewis Ginter was born in New York in 1824 and orphaned at age 12. At 17, nearly penniless and barely educated, he made his way to Richmond where he opened a variety store, selling toys and domestic articles such as clocks and toiletries. He later added imported linens and woolens to his merchandise. At the onset of the Civil War, Ginter sold his thriving business and invested in sugar, cotton, and tobacco. He was active in the Civil War as a commissary in the Confederate Army. During the fall of Richmond, most of his stock of sugar and tobacco was burned, and his fortune lost. He was able to sell his cotton for enough to return to New York and work in the banking and brokerage business. He rebuilt his fortune—but lost it again in the 1873 stock crash.

Lewis Ginter returned to Richmond in 1873, penniless once again after losing his second fortune. He rebuilt a fortune through his skillful selling of tobacco consignments from Southern growers. He partnered with John Allen to form Allen & Ginter tobacco. The company employed mostly young women to make hand-rolled cigarettes. With his imaginative marketing skills, Ginter realized that the pieces of cardboard used to stiffen cigarette packs could be made into collectible ‘trading cards’ featuring a variety of subjects. Cards were issued in series, and the company distributed decorative backing pieces on which the cards could be mounted and displayed.

Demand for Allen & Ginter’s cigarettes grew so large that the company offered a $75,000 prize to anyone inventing an automated cigarette rolling machine. James Bonsack patented a machine in 1889, but it was James Buchanan Duke who bought the device. Ginter traveled to the Paris Exposition of 1889 and the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 to display his company’s wares.

Members of the Commonwealth Club and Westmoreland Club approached fellow member and businessman Lewis Ginter to provide a destination outside the city where “wheelmen,” or bicycle enthusiasts, could rendezvous after a good ride. Ginter built a clubhouse on the nine acres he owned beside a lake north of town. The new Lakeside Wheel Club opened in November of 1895. Ginter died in 1897. By 1901 the bicycle craze had cooled. Ginter’s niece and heiress, Grace Arents, purchased the clubhouse and nine acres from her uncle’s estate. The building then served a brief stint as The Lakeside Sanatorium for Babies. Later, with a second floor added, and a reconfigured interior, the renamed “Bloemendaal Farm” served as a home to Grace Arents until her death in 1926.

Don’t miss the exhibit “The Lakeside Wheel Club” on view in the Lora M. Robins Library in the Kelly Education Center.

In 1896, across from the Lakeside Wheel Club, Lewis Ginter opened Lakeside Park, a public pleasure park built on 63 acres. Amenities of the park included a fishing lake, a man-made island, rowboats and a boathouse, zoo, hedge maze, bicycle track, café, billiards, bowling alley, tennis courts and dance hall. Admission was 5 cents, children under eight were admitted free. A trolley line to the park opened in 1896. The park site is now Jefferson Lakeside Country Club.

When Ginter died in 1897, he was hailed as one of the South’s richest men. Among the projects he spearheaded are The Jefferson Hotel and the development of Ginter Park . He left much of his fortune to institutions in the city of Richmond and to his family and friends. He was generous to his niece, Grace Arents. On her death in 1926, she left her property called “Bloemendaal Farm” to the city of Richmond to establish a botanical garden named after her uncle, Lewis Ginter.

Jonah Holland is PR & Marketing Coordinator at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, specializing in social media. She's been known to go for a walk, and come back completely inspired to write a blog post on her newest found adventure.

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