The Discovery and Development of Lakewold
The Lakes District
Nisqually Indians once roamed these vast prairies, harvesting roots of the native camas lilies. In pioneer days this area known as the Lakes District was claimed by the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, a subsidiary of Britain's Hudson's Bay Company. Sheep grazed on the lush prairie grass and drank from the spring-fed lakes.
A Country Retreat
In 1908 Emma Alexander knew a good piece of property when she saw one. Streetcars provided easier access to the Lakes District; and when Interlaaken was platted, Emma bought Lot 23 and built a small summer cabin on the property between 1910 and 1912. By 1913, the gardens were already locally famous, as the Tacoma Daily Register headlined "Nature-loving Tacomans make modern Arcady of Gravelly Lake's Shores" (11/30/1913).
Emma transferred her lakeside property to her son, Hubbard Foster (H.F.) Alexander, and his wife, Ruth, in 1918. He was a shipping magnate, being the president of America's largest steamship company providing luxury passenger service, the Admiral Lines. Hubbard Foster and Ruth had a house in Tacoma at Fifth and Yakima, and used the house at Gravelly Lake as a country retreat. The Alexander's bought an adjoining 5-acre lot, creating the 10 acres that Lakewold enjoys today, and hired designers to lay out the home and gardens to capture views of Gravelly Lake and Mount Rainier. The family entertained at the lakeside estate with lawn parties and family weddings. Ruth named the estate "Inglewood". Mrs. Alexander was an active garden club member in Tacoma, and had a rose named for her, the climbing "Ruth Alexander".
The Olmsted's, one of America's most prestigious landscape design teams, developed many projects in the Seattle-Tacoma area in the early 1900's. It is believed that the Olmsted brothers influenced the design of the perimeter fence, gate (built between 1914 and 1918) and brick walkway. The wrought iron entrance gate, flanked by an eagle with wings spread on each gatepost, continues to welcome visitors today.
The Making of a Horticulture Haven
In 1925 Major Everett Griggs and his wife, Grace, purchased the property and renamed it "Lakewold," a Middle English term meaning "lake-woods."
In 1938 the Griggs sold Lakewold to George Corydon and Eulalie Wagner. He was the son of a prominent Tacoma physician, the Vice President and Treasurer of the St. Paul and Tacoma Lumber company, as well as President of the C.W. Griggs Investment company and the Wilkeson Company, which was in coal production. She was the daughter of a prominent Seattle lumber family, the Merrill's, and is well remembered for her dedication and her contributions to the practice of landscape gardening, epitomized by Lakewold Gardens. Corydon and Eulalie both loved being outdoors in the garden, and neighbors and family enjoyed parties at Lakewold.
In 1958 Thomas Church, one of America's finest landscape architects, came to Lakewold on his first visit to the Pacific Northwest. Church returned regularly to suggest refinements to the garden design, stressing always the importance of drawing people into the garden.
Mrs. Wagner continued to live at Lakewold after the death of her husband in 1978. Then in 1987 she donated the entire estate to a new non-profit organization, The Friends of Lakewold, with the stipulation that an endowment fund be raised to assure the continuing care of the gardens. Lakewold Gardens was opened officially on May 7, 1989. Mrs. Wagner stated her motivation clearly. "As we become more and more city creatures, living in manmade surroundings, perhaps gardens will become even more precious to us, letting us remember that we began in the garden." Eulalie Wagner died in 1991, but her dream remains with us at Lakewold Gardens.