Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Nathan F. Barrett, Famous Landscape Designer of Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries, Lived in Pelham

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Nathan F. Barrett was a famous “landscape engineer” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. See, e.g., National Sculpture Society, N.Y. Times, Apr. 11, 1894, p. 4. He lived in New Rochelle early in his career and in Pelham late in his career. He gained prominence when he played an important role in laying out the grounds of the 1893 World’s Fair at Chicago (with others) and crafted the landscape design for the City of Pullman, Illinois. See Big Deal in Real Estate, N.Y. Times, Aug. 25, 1897, p. 8. See also Dunlap, David, In Chicago, Layers of History but Uncertain Future, N. Y. Times, May 2, 1999, p. RE7. Theodore Roosevelt, while Governor of New York, appointed Barrett to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission to put his landscape artistry to use on a grand scale. See Play Telegraphy Fatal, N.Y. Times, Aug. 11, 1906, p. 1.

Barrett was closely involved with the National Sculpture Society. He raised his profile in New York City during the 1890s by participating in several widely acclaimed exhibitions of “landscape gardening” sponsored by the National Sculpture Society. The exhibitions were intended to “show the possibilities of combining sculpture with flowers and plants in both natural and formal gardening and in interior decoration.” Art Notes, N.Y. Times, Feb. 27, 1895, p. 4. See also The National Sculpture Society, N.Y. Times, Feb. 27, 1895, p. 9; In the World of Art, N.Y. Times, Mar. 3, 1895, p. 21; Like Di Medici’s Garden, N.Y. Times, May 1, 1895, p. 4; The Sculpture Society – Formal Informality the Art of Landscape Gardening, N.Y. Times, May 7, 1895, p. 5. Barrett also spoke frequently as an expert on the use of sculpture in formal gardens. See, e.g., Current News of the Fine Arts, N.Y. Times, Apr. 1, 1894, p. 19.

His portfolio of work began to attract the attention of real estate developers throughout the New York City region who hired him to assist with the layouts of large real estate developments. For example, the August 25, 1897 issued of The New York Times reported the consummation of one of the largest real estate deals on the New Jersey coast at the time. It involved the transfer to a “syndicate of capitalists and railroad men of the entire ocean frontage between Elberon and Deal Lake, and practically all the unimproved building sites between those points, extending back a considerable distance from the coast line”. The work of laying out the estate consisting of the nearly forty-mile-long tract of land was awarded to Nathan F. Barrett who developed plans to “include an esplanade 200 feet in width from Deal Beach Station to the ocean, with a marine circle surrounding the property, with carriage driveways and bicycle and equestrian pathways, golf links, and tennis courts.” Big Deal In Real Estate – Slice of New Jersey Coast Acquired by Syndicate for $3,000,000, N.Y. Times, Aug. 25, 1897, p. 8.

Nathan F. Barrett lived in Rochelle Park in New Rochelle. He developed amazing gardens and a bungalow on the grounds of his estate that attracted widespread attention and that further affirmed his reputation as a master “landscape engineer”. One account of a fundraising event held on the grounds of his estate on June 9, 1906 read as follows:

“A Lawn Party in Fairyland.


Fair for New Rochelle Club Held in N. F. Barrett’s Unique Park.

The home of Nathan F. Barrett, the landscape artist, who lives in Rochelle Park, New Rochelle, was the scene of a unique garden party last night, held under the auspices of the Rochelle Park Athletic Association, composed of the sons of many well-known New Yorkers who live in the neighborhood.

Mr. Barrett’s gardens and bungalow are unusual, for in them he has duplicated on a small scale bits of scenery from all parts of the United States and Europe. The grounds abound with Alpine peaks spanned by rustic bridges, Italian lakes, deep canyons, (miniature reproductions of those in Colorado,) while brooks fall in cascades into lakes, in which water fowl swim about. This scene was illuminated last night with myriads of colored incandescent lights which produced an indescribably beautiful effect.

In the afternoon and evening numerous visitors strolled through the gardens and patronized the booths where dainties were sold by the mothers and sisters of the members of the Athletic Association. On the Committee of Arrangements were the sons of E. W. Kemble, the cartoonist; Ernest Albert, a scenic artist, and Prof. H. C. Bumpus of the Museum of Natural History. The entertainment brought in a considerable sum, which will be used to build a clubhouse for the Athletic Association.” A Lawn Party In Fairyland, N.Y. Times, Jun. 10, 1906, p. 9.

Not long after the fund raising event, Barrett suffered a terrible tragedy, losing his 16-year-old son in a horrible accident. The boy, Dettmar Barrett, was playing with two other boys who – like Dettmar -- were interested in telegraphy. The boys had rigged up telegraph lines between their homes. According to an account of the incident published on the front page of The New York Times:

“They were reconstructing one of the lines yesterday afternoon, and Barrett, carrying one end of a wire, ascended an electric light pole. It was his intention to fasten the wire to the top of the pole.

When he was within a few feet of the top the wire in his hand came in contact with a high-power wire carrying some 2,000 volts. With a cry he fell from the pole and struck on the back of his head. His skull was crushed and his back broken.” Play Telegraphy Fatal, N.Y. Times, Aug. 11, 1906, p. 1.

Late in his life, Nathan F. Barrett moved from New Rochelle to Pelham and lived at 795 Pelhamdale Avenue. He died on October 16, 1919. His obituary appeared two days later in The New York Times. It read:


Ex-President of American Society of Landscape Architects Was 74.

Nathan Franklin Barrett, landscape architect, for nearly twenty years associated with the work of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, died Thursday night in the Mount Vernon Hospital before the surgeons arrived to operate on a growth in his throat from which he had suffered for a long time. He was 74 years old. His home was at 795 Pelhamdale Avenue, Pelham.
Mr. Barrett was President of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1903. He laid out the town of Pullman, Ill., and the country estates of P. A. B. Widener, Joseph H. Choate and H. O. Havemeyer among others. He had recently been working on plans for beautifying signs along public roads. He was wounded at the battle of Cedar Creek in the civil war.” Nathan F. Barrett Dead, N.Y. Times, Oct. 18, 1919, p. 11.
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