The Brookby Estate in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, is being restored to its former glory thanks to generous donations.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the mansion and its grounds were designed for lumber baron John Blodgett and his wife in 1928. The gardens were fashioned by Frederick Law Olmsted, who is known for his work in New York’s Central Park and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.
Brookby Estate is one of the only two locations in Michigan with the remains of a garden designed by Olmsted still intact, according to Jeffrey Sytsma, a historical consultant and landscaper.
Sytsma has researched the Brookby Estate for years and discovered the original blueprints and Olmsted’s plans for the grounds, as well as a list of the original plantings used.
The Olmsted gardens took eight years to design and install across the eight acres of land. A full-time crew of several gardeners cared for the space. The Michigan Horticultural Society awarded the Blodgetts top honors for their Victory Garden in 1943.
As time went on the Blodgetts spent less time maintaining the gardens, Sytsma told Michigan Live.
The estate was almost demolished 14 years ago, but real estate developer Sam Cummings bought the property and donated it to Aquinas College, which uses it as the residence for its president.
The majority of the home has already been restored, but about five acres of the property remain neglected, becoming overgrown and unkempt. That’s now going to change.
“It’s a huge project, we’re looking at several years,” Sytsma said. “Aquinas really understands they have a historical jewel here and they want to maintain it.”
An anonymous donor contributed $250,000 of the $310,000 raised for the project to date.
Currently, landscaping crews are working on trimming back brush and ivy that has obscured the building’s structure and also on recovering pathways overgrown with aggressive ground cover.
All of this is being done in preparation for a fundraising event, “Backyard Bash at Brookby,” where donors will be able to enjoy jazz music during a 1920s themed night on Aug. 16.
The next step of the project will be reestablishing the Chinese Garden that was transformed into an English garden in the 1940s. Over 80 types of shrubs, perennials and trees were used in the Chinese Garden and these will take the place of the plants there now.
Garden walls that have succumbed to time will be destroyed and rebuilt, and other portions of the garden will be salvaged.
A Buddha statue that has been missing for the past three or four years will either be recovered or replaced.
“If anyone knows where it is, we’d love to have it back,” Sytsma said.
The pool garden will also have its landscaping restored by recreating the paths that wind to a raised pergola. The gardener’s cottage and the chauffeur’s cottage will both become visible after the growth of trees, mulberry bushes and ground cover has been cleared away.