The History of Our Landscape
By Ray Owen
In 1904, Pennsylvania industrialist James Boyd purchased the land, now known as Weymouth, making it part of his Country Place Era estate. Designed over the span of 24 years by landscape architect Alfred Yeomans. Weymouth is best known as the home of writer James Boyd II, and an important center during the southern literary renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, hosting such notable figures as William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Paul Green, Thomas Wolfe and others.
The estate was originally more than 2,500 acres in size and included a forest of virgin longleaf pine trees. Yeomans’ original 1904 design for Weymouth commenced with plans for a great park. Public roads were opened in all directions across the hilly terrain, using to advantage natural features, and with care not to harm the old trees. Plans ultimately included tennis courts, a croquet lawn, a practice golf course, stables, and riding rings. The original approach to the mansion was from a long gravel drive framed by simple gateposts. The front of the house was informally landscaped with woodland plantings, and long open expanses to accommodated the Boyds’ equestrian lifestyle. The yard behind the house was more formal, with simple boxwood-hedged parterres and paths leading down to the lower levels of long flower beds and a pool area featuring a serpentine wall. At the center of the lower garden was an open lawn that was lined by weeping cherries, against a backdrop of native pines, hollies, dogwoods, and magnolias. Weymouth’s founding provided the context for the town’s development as a resort community and, as such, is one of its most significant historic landmarks.
The Weymouth Heights neighborhood
The area tract now known as Weymouth Heights was formerly named Shaw’s Ridge after the immigrant family who worked the forest with their slaves as a tar and turpentine plantation. Hundreds of boxed pines still remain in Weymouth Heights. The “Boxed Pines of Weymouth” are longleaf pine trees (Pinus palustris) marked with V-shaped cuts made by former slaves or their descendants, to let loose the flow of sap collected for turpentine, pitch and rosin.
Following the commission for the Boyd estate, Yeomans worked extensively in the region, including plans for the Weymouth Heights and Knollwood subdivisions. Again, working for the Boyd family, Yeomans designed the Weymouth Heights subdivision beginning in 1913.
While Yeoman’s original schematic designs for individual lots and gardens appear to be largely unrealized, the subdivision’s tree-lined, curvilinear roads and generous lots with houses set back from the street are a departure from the orthogonal street grid often utilized in early town development. Yeoman’s work is most clearly visible in the undulating extension of Massachusetts Avenue, the gentle curve of Indiana Avenue and what is now Highland Road. The subdivision also includes a large array of mature trees, many of which are longleaf pines in old-growth forest.
Threat to the Longleaf Pine
The longleaf pine ecosystem is considered endangered globally, with less than 3% of the original 93 million acres remaining. Early published accounts show Weymouth Heights included in the old growth tract, however no studies have been conducted in the urban forest to learn the age of the trees, or ascertain habitat integrity. It is entirely possible that some of the longleaf pines found in the subdivision are among the worlds oldest, with trees documented in the adjoining nature preserve as old as 460 years. While tree preservation is encouraged by the town, there are no municipal ordinances governing the destruction of trees on private property. Threats to the site include fire suppression, logging and urban development. The lack of public awareness of the cultural and ecological value of the boxed pines might be the biggest factor in determining their future survival.
Cultural Landscape Report Part
In 2011, Weymouth embarked on a landmark study on the history of the Boyd family and the landscape of their Weymouth estate. Read more about the Cultural Landscape Report Part I & II here.