“Being a great lover of nature, an especially of wild flowers and plant life, it was her desire that one part of our park system should be left in its natural condition and devoted to the wild flowers and birds of our state. Under her loving care for many years, this garden has become famous and given pleasure to many." Alfred Pillsbury, President, Minneapolis Park Board, May 5, 1933.
She was born in rural Maine, near Appleton, on August 3, 1851. An interest in botany may have been aroused at an early age by her family's herbal remedies, made at home from their knowledge of local plants. After high school graduation in 1870, she took a position as a teacher in West Appleton, Maine, near the Butler farm, but soon she was enrolled in a Teachers College, the Eastern State Normal School in Castine, Maine, from which she graduated in 1873. After graduation she moved with her parents to Indiana where other relatives were already established. That resettlement was not to last long for her, for in September 1874 we find her in Minneapolis. Here she began a long teaching career, principally in Botany, that was to last until retirement in 1911. [Contemporary photos of Appleton, the Butler Farm and Castine.]
During those years in Minneapolis, she pursued her interest in botany by attending classes at the University of Minnesota, collecting, editing and working for certain professors, botany trips to Jamaica, Woods Hole, and the University's new research station on Vancouver Island.
Photo above: Figure 1: Eloise as a young woman, ca 1890s. Blanch's Studio, Minneapolis.
In 1911 Eloise wrote about her early years in an unpublished article entitled An Autobiographical Sketch
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As early as the 1880s observant people realized that the development of the city of Minneapolis was incompatible with the retention of native habitat. West of the city in the Saratoga Springs Addition, residents successfully petitioned the new Minneapolis Park Board to obtain a segment of that area to preserve for future generations. With various name changes and adjustments in size, this became what is now Theodore Wirth Park. A small section of this new park was particularly attractive to Eloise and her teacher colleagues. They were having great difficulties familiarizing their students with plants growing in their natural surroundings, as development was wiping out these areas. This spot would be accessible and attractive for that purpose.
As the Park Board had done little with the entire park due to lack of funds, this small group decided that something must be done to protect the unique native flora of the small area they had selected. That area included a swampy bog, fern glens, hillsides, upland hills and trees and nearby, the Great Medicine Spring. In 1907, after a petition for this group (pdf copy of documents) the Park Board was moved to set aside a portion of this area as a Natural Botanical Garden but soon it was known as the Wild Botanic Garden (as the partially visible sign in fig. 3 below states). Eloise became the most prominent guardian and promoter of this natural space. After 1909, she spent each growing season in the Garden, living with friend Jessie Polley in south Minneapolis from 1912 to 1915 and then she took up lodging nearby at the J. W. Babcock house at 227 Xerxes Avenue. In the fall, the garden closed on September 30th and each year Eloise, in mid-October, returned East to 20 Murray Hill Road in Malden, Massachusetts, to stay with her sister Cora. Prior to 1910, while still teaching, she had returned to Malden in July and August each year.
A document based on the archives of the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, titled "Our Native Plant Reserve" by Mrs. John Jepson, gives more detail on the origins of the Garden. Most of the detail in this short history appears to be taken from the notes of Eloise Butler that are preserved in her written documents "Annals of the Wild Life Reserve." Details about that below. This document itself was published in June 1933 following her death, in The Minnesota Clubwoman.
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After her retirement from teaching in 1911, a petition by the Conservation Committee of the Minneapolis Woman’s Club to appoint Eloise as the Garden Curator was presented to the Park Board. They approved the petition along with a very small salary. The enhancement of the garden with the planting of additional native species then gathered full steam in the hands of Eloise Butler. While the peak years for plant acquisition were 1915-1916, the acquisition of and replacement of species was a continuous process as it remains today. Eloise would rescue plants from development areas and from nearby sources such as the Quaking Bog. The Quaking Bog is also located in Theodore Wirth Park, on the west side of Theodore Wirth Parkway, opposite the Garden. It is a hidden five acre acidic bog with mature tamaracks shading an under story of sphagnum moss.
It was also her practice to import plants not growing in the area that she thought would grow there, even if they were not native to Minnesota. She sourced many plants from nurseries in other states, particularly nurseries she was familiar with from her families home states of Maine and Massachusetts.
Promotion: As part of her crusade to raise public awareness of the Garden, Eloise began to write for publication. In 1911 she wrote, in a weekly series, 22 articles about native plants that was published in the Sunday Minneapolis Tribune. She also gave Garden tours. In the following years she published numerous other articles. Between 1910 and 1918 she put on an exhibit about the Wild Botanic Garden in the horticulture building at the State Fair.
You can read her 1911 weekly articles in our Education Archive. In addition, they are also found in Martha Hellander's book The Wild Gardener, along with a large number of her other writings. Some of these are also found in the our Site Archive.
In August of 1913 Minneapolis hosted a convention for the American Florists and Ornamental Horticulturists. Eloise supplied a display of native wild flowers - whichever ones nature deemed to provide at meeting time. (HTML version of her report).
Her January 1914 letter to Parks Superintendent Theodore Wirth - summarizes why the Garden is so important and so enjoyable.
fig. 4 below: Here in 1911 we see Eloise, in full dress and hat, using a downed tree to navigate on a visit to the quaking bog, which is close to the Wildflower Garden. Eloise would source plants there, as would Martha Crone in later years. Photo courtesy Minneapolis Public Library, Minneapolis Collection, M2632J
In fig. 5 at the left we see Eloise, well dressed as usual, ca. 1921 by which time the Garden was well established. Photo courtesy Minneapolis Public Library, Minneapolis Collection, M2632A
Eloise Butler's governing idea for design of the Garden was as follows:
“My wild garden is run on the political principle of laissez-faire. A paramount idea is to perpetuate in the garden it's primeval wildness. All artificial appearances are avoided and plants are to be allowed to grow as they will and without any check except what may be necessary for healthful living.”
The Garden was not completely fenced in until 1924, (details) a necessary step to keep out interlopers, "spooners", and destructive animals, such as the neighboring hog. Today the hog has moved well away but the white tail deer have moved in and it requires consistent fence maintenance to keep them out. Natural calamities affect the garden as well. In fig 6 at right we see Eloise near a stand of birches, many of which were lost in a destructive tornado of June 2nd 1925. In more recent years the loss of many elms to Dutch Elm Disease and oaks to oak wilt has left some areas without the tree canopy that sustained the habitat beneath, resulting in an evolvement of what the Garden looks like.
Fig. 6 right: Eloise Butler, ca 1910-20 at birch tree grove. Photo courtesy Minneapolis Public Library, Minneapolis Collection, M2632B
Around 1920 a young woman named Martha Crone entered the scene. Her connection to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and later to her assistance in founding The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden are linked back to her innate loving response to wild things and their place in the environment. Like most people who devote a passionate lifetime to the pursuit of a certain subject or hobby, she was largely self-taught about wild plants and birds. Her first contact with the Garden was as an inquisitive and persistent visitor, extracting information from Eloise Butler and in turn bringing in specimens and providing assistance to Eloise.
Martha and her husband William, a dentist, lived at 3723 Lyndale Ave. North in Minneapolis. Together, they were avid explorers of plant habitat and especially mushroom habitat. Martha was secretary of the Minnesota Mycological Society from 1926 onward for a number of years. Considering the need for large numbers of plants for the developing Wildflower Garden, the Crones were able to provide good assistance to Eloise Butler in finding sources for wild plants and for rescuing plants from areas where the native habitat was soon to be overrun with development. Winter correspondence between Eloise and the Crones started in the early 1920s and continued to the end.
In Eloise Butler's early years at the Garden, she referred to it as "The Wild Botanic Garden" for two reasons. First, she maintained it in a "wild" state, such as the plants might appear in the natural environment. Second, she wanted to establish which plants would grow well in the climate of the Garden, even if they were not native - hence - it was a 'botanic' Garden. The first premise has been maintained to the present day. The second was abandoned toward the end of Martha Crone's time when it was established that only plants native to the area should be present.
A second name appeared in her later years when, due to the encroachments of the city, the Garden was thought of as a "native plant reserve." Martha Crone and later Ken Avery used the term 'reserve' when speaking of the Garden. Nevertheless, on June 19, 1929, the Park Board took official action and renamed the Garden the "Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden," to which was added " and Bird Sanctuary" in 1968 at the request of the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden.
fig. 7 above. A gathering of friends on her 80th birthday, August 3, 1931. From l to r: Miss Alma Johnson, frequenter of the Garden; Mrs John Hadden, a former pupil; Mrs. J. W. Babcock, in whose house Eloise lodged while in Minneapolis; Miss Clara K. Leavitt, fellow teacher; Eloise; Dr. W. H. Crone (behind Eloise); Miss Elizabeth Foss, botany teacher at North H.S.; Miss Mary K. Meeker, former pupil; Mrs. O. F. (Edith) Schussler, former pupil; Mrs Crone (Martha); Mrs. Louisa Healy, former pupil. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society, Martha Crone Papers.
fig. 8 below: Following the outdoor photo above, the gathering moved indoors to the J. W. Babcock House at 227 Xerxes Ave. where Eloise boarded during the time that the Garden was open. The seating arrangement here is: Left side front to back - Mrs. Louisa Healy, Eloise Butler, Mrs. Schussler, Miss Leavitt and Miss Foss. Right side, front to back - Martha Crone, Mrs. Hadden, Miss Johnson, Mrs. Babcock and Dr. Wm. Crone. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society, Martha Crone Papers.
Eloise sent copies of the birthday photos to the Crones August 14 with this note: "Dear "Cronies". -- I didn't know when you would be able to come into the garden so I am mailing you the snap shots of the joint birthday party. I thought you would (sic) to see how very English Dr. Crone and Mrs. Babcock look with their monocles as they sit at the table. I think that the out-door print is very good, except that the doctor is somewhat obscured by the dark tree trunk." (PDF copy)
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In fig. 9 at the left, we see Eloise crossing the rustic bridge at the head of the Mallard Pool. The year is 1932. She has physically weakened due in part to neuritis and from burns received in 1929 when a heating pad caught fire while she was sleeping. Her doctors advised her that the burns would always be covered with scar tissue, not true skin, so they would always be somewhat uncomfortable. The development of this pool was long on gestation and short on actual building. She had dreamed for many years of creating an aquatic pool for special plants and the site at the north end of the Garden where the bog drains out was the best site in the Garden, but she could not move the idea to reality until 1932 when the pool was quickly constructed by an unemployed man and another was employed to build a rustic bridge of tamarack poles to span the small stream the flowed into the pool. When a mallard was soon seen in it, it became the “mallard pool.” The portion of the pool that still remains within the current Garden boundary was renovated some years ago and is under consideration for restoration again today, as the progress of time and changes in the environment have worked their ways on the area. Eloise had planned extensive plantings around the pool and these were completed by Martha Crone in 1933.
More details about the marsh will be found in our article "The Bog at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden." Here is the original complete text of the Mallard Pool story - an essay by Eloise from October 1932.
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1932 was Eloise’s last full year as curator. While at Malden she wrote her last letter to the Crones on Jan. 11, 1933 in which she thanked them for the Christmas gifts they had sent and she attached copies of correspondence from Pearl Heath Frazer which she wanted the Crones to keep for her as she (Eloise) may want to show it to Mr. Wirth upon her return to Minneapolis. The correspondence was about Mrs. Frazer taking on the job of Curator so that Eloise could retire. Eloise had sent a letter, at the request of Parks Superintendent Theodore Wirth, to Mrs. Frazer on Sept. 29, 1932, explaining the job. Mrs. Frazer had replied to Eloise that that was not the sort of job she was interested in. (pdf of Eloise's letter to the Crones).
Shortly after the new season of 1933 began, Eloise was back in the Garden doing what she could in her failing health. On the rainy morning of April 10, 1933 she attempted to reach the Garden from her lodgings at the J. W. Babcock's house (located just east of the Garden at 227 Xerxes Ave. No.). She apparently suffered a heart attack and made her way back to Babcocks (possibly with some help). A doctor was summoned but nothing could be done and she soon passed away on the couch in the entryway of the house at 2:15 PM. Her funeral was on April 12th, 12:45 PM at the Lakewood Chapel. On May 5th, her ashes were scattered in the Garden as had been her wish.
The myth that she died in the Garden: It is frequently misstated that she died in the Garden and some boys found her there. That is not in agreement with the accounts of those that were present at her death at the Babcock House where the doctor was attending her. Perhaps this romantic myth has some origin in Theodore Wirth's April 19th letter announcing her death when he stated "(she)....had suddenly died in the park while on her way to her domain." Or perhaps it is a misreading of the reports of her death in the newspapers. For example, the Minneapolis Journal reported on April 11th (speaking of woodland flowers) that "Miss Butler died yesterday in their midst." The article further says that "she was found leaning against a stump near a little by-path". That last part is believed to be true, (as Wirth's statement that she died "in the park on her way to her domain" may be partially true) as it is known from witnesses on April 10 that she attempted to go to the Garden. Some newspaper accounts and Martha Hellander's research indicate she was found on her way to the Garden and was helped back. But she did arrive back at Babcock's house. The newspaper incorrectly identifies the Babcock house as J. W. Butler's house. (Note #1)
Testimony of Lloyd Teeuwen: The only eye-witness account of her death by anyone still living was given by Lloyd Teeuwen on May 4, 1988 in a recorded interview with Martha Hellander while Hellander was researching material for her book The Wild Gardener. Teeuwen was a Garden helper for Eloise, beginning when he was 13 or 14 years old. It was six years later when on April 10th, on a rainy day, he came to the house to help Eloise down to the Garden, as he always did when the paths were wet and muddy. He asked "do you want to go down there and try it." "No" she replied, "I don't think I want to go down there now, maybe a little later if it stops, maybe we can go down there." He believes she may have attempted to negotiate the path herself but states "They didn't find her anywhere, she got to the house herself." Mrs. Babcock had told Teeuwen that Eloise had gone out but was only gone a short time when she returned. "She'd come in and Mrs. Babcock says 'She said she didn't feel too good.' " (note #2)
When Lloyd returned to Babcocks later she was there and his report of her death is as follows: "When I came in there, the doctor was there, and she was laying in the Living Room; they had what they call a little entrance way, like a vestibule, and it had a black leather couch in it and she was laying on it. [Hellander - In the Babcocks house?] Yes, you came in the front door - the doctor had come in it - I don't remember his name at all any more - and he was checking her out like that [Hellander - was she still living?] She was still living, but she was, ten minutes later, he says (the doctor), 'she's gone'." (note #2)
1. Minneapolis Journal April 11, 1933 (pdf image)
2. Interview with Lloyd Teeuwen, May 4, 1988 by Martha Hellander. Tape and transcript in the Martha Crone Collection, Minnesota Historical Society.
"For a full quarter of a century, her useful life has been spent in a labor of love..." Theodore Wirth, Superintendent.
It is not unusual that the accomplishments of an individual are more clearly understood after that person has passed on. While certain people are "in-the-know" about what an individual is accomplishing, it is only after death, when congratulations are too late that the rest of world becomes aware of the qualities of the individual whose life is now past. Theodore Wirth, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Park System, was probably the first to craft a brief but informative statement about the role Eloise Butler had taken on and played with such accomplishment. His letter of April 19, 1933, addressed to the Board of Park Commissioners informs them of her death and of her accomplishments. The letter announces the date for the remembrance ceremony to be held May 5th and also got the ball rolling on the commemorative tablet that was placed one year later.
On April 28, 1933, Superintendent Theodore Wirth wrote to the Board of Park Commissioners (pdf copy) that the Remembrance Ceremony for Eloise Butler was to be held at 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon on May 5, 1933 in the Wildflower Garden. He stated that he had secured good specimen of a Pin Oak to be planted and made the suggestion that
That every member of the Board participate in the planting of the tree, and that the President of the Board perform the rite of spreading the ashes.
About 100 people attended the ceremony. Mr. A. F. Pillsbury, President of the Minneapolis Park Board, officiated. The Pin Oak tree acquired by Superintendent Wirth was planted in her honor and her ashes were scattered within the area, as had been her wish. (The Pin Oak is difficult to establish there and was subsequently replaced with another.) Use this link to see the full report of the Ceremony: May 5, 1933 Remembrance Ceremony.
Dust we are, and now to dust again
But gently blown throughout the glen
Which was your alter and your shrine
Wherein you gave a life of tenderness all thine
In every nook your footsteps trod
The plants you loved belong to God
And in his keeping they are ours
The trees, the shrubs, the blessed flowers
And still your soul, on guard, will stand
Against the touch of vandal hand.
At the end of the path from the front gate of the garden to the Martha Crone Shelter will be found a large granite boulder bearing a dedication to Eloise Butler. The boulder was placed the year following her death and sits in front of an oak tree that was planted in her memory. On the boulder is mounted a bronze tablet, dedicated on Arbor Day, May 4th, 1934.
Commentary, historical documents, and photos of the dedication: Butler Tablet Dedication
Below: Newspaper photos from day of dedication. Click on photo for a larger image.
In fig. 11 at the left we see a more complete view of the original curator’s office. This building, located on a flat plateau in the woodland part of the Garden was first erected in 1912. It served as office, tool room, visitor center and for everything else. Prior to that date there was no shelter in the developing Garden. The year of this photo is 1935. You will notice the small sign visible to the left of the door - it reads “Office of the Curator - Wild Botanic Garden,” even though that name had been discarded for some years prior. The Garden was officially renamed the “Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden” on June 19, 1929 and in 1968 at the request of The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, it became the "Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary."
fig. 11 above. The “Office” at the Garden, ca. 1935. Original building from 1912. Click on the photo for a larger image. The man seated at the right is sitting on the boulder bearing the memorial plaque to Eloise Butler that was dedicated in May, 1934. The men on the left are sitting on wooden "settees" that were replaced in 1960 by Kasota Limestone benches with a dedication to Clinton Odell. For more photos of both the old office and the new Martha Crone Shelter see "The Old Office Replaced". Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society, MH5.9 MP4.1 r356
That old useful structure, becoming more rustic as each year passed, was finally replaced in 1969-70 with the current Martha Crone Shelter (fig. 12 at right), when the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden took on the major challenge of having a new structure designed and built. With much more room for the Garden Curator and naturalist staff, display areas, a fireplace and attic storage, this building still serves well today. The Garden Curator’s tool room has long since been relocated to a storage building/work room at the top of hill above the shelter and near to the front gate.
fig. 12. The Martha Crone Shelter which replaced the old "office" Click on photo for a larger image. Photo © 2007 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden
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Once the Garden was established in 1907, Eloise began writing about it. A number of her essays were published in various periodicals and magazines such as the Asa Gray Bulletin, or The Annual Report of the Board of Park Commissioners. Over the years she wrote a number of columns for the local newspapers including a series of 22 in 1911, published in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, that described various plants in the Wild Botanic Garden. All 22 articles are available in html format in our Educational Archive, as are a number of those published in other venues. She also wrote many shorter articles that were never published. These essays began with a short autobiography and progressed to describing events that occurred in the Garden or on plant hunting excursions; some were observations on the characteristics of plants Particularly memorable were her recounting of finding the Walking Fern and the White Lady's-slippers and what happened when her hat caught fire. Her intent was to group them into several series under the titles such as "Annals of the Wild Life Reserve". A number of these articles will also be found in the Archive.
For a complete biography of Eloise Butler please see the book The Wild Gardener by Martha Hellander. This book is available by mail or web order from The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden. Click here to see a description of the book and to order.
Information on Martha Hellander and how she created this book plus photos and information on her research in Maine on the Butler Family see This Article
A short article on some common themes between these two gardeners.
The first link takes you to the Minnesota Historical Society where there is a short biography of Eloise Butler, Martha Crone and also a complete inventory of documents that the Historical Society has in it's collection on Eloise and the Wildflower Garden.
Minnesota Historical Society