History

 


      Grenville Clark (1882-1967), the donor of Clark Botanic Garden in Albertson, was a Wall Street lawyer, but much more. A 1906 graduate of Harvard Law School, he was a founder of what became the firm of Root, Clark, Buckner & Ballantine. 

      Clark married Fanny Dwight in 1909 and together they had three daughters and one son; the eldest daughter died of meningitis at seven. In the early 1920s the family moved from Manhattan to Nassau County. They did not give up their town house on East 72nd Street for several years thereafter, but the older children were approaching school age, and they wanted them to have a country home and a school life, while they themselves had good friends living in the area. They bought a modest clapboard house and ten-acre property in Albertson, bound on the west by the Oyster Bay Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, and chosen for severely pragmatic reasons. Fanny wanted hardwood floors and town water, and Grenville wanted a train to town within walking distance. On three sides lay reddish grass meadows with occasional lone trees or patches of woodland, and not far behind, large potato and cabbage fields. On the forth side, across the railroad tracks, only two or three houses fronted on a narrow sidewalk stretching to Willis Avenue.

       Lawyer, yes, but Grenville Clark was a lifelong agitator. Unclassifiable politically and publicly unknown, he was widely influential among the nation’s leadership upon a broad range of public issues throughout his life. While generally describing himself as a conservative, Clark took time in the thirties to found the American Bar Association’s Civil Liberties Committee, claiming support civil liberties as a conservative cause aimed at resisting the excesses of government. He joined in drafting committee amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in defense of free speech and, in the flag salute cases, asserting the right of individuals on conscientious grounds not to salute the flag.

        Even before the U.S. entry into World War II, Clark was thinking about how to ensure postwar world peace. At the end of the war, immediately grasping the significance of nuclear weapons, Clark became the leading spirit of the world federalist movement. Never one to advocate policy without a specific scheme for it’s implementation, he and professor Louis B. Sohn of the Harvard Law School drafted, article by article, amendments to the United Nations Charter, which would have transformed it into a true world federal government, though limited in function to the suppression of war. Even thus limited, it would have required radical changes in our system of nation states, including disarmament by all nations, and the formation of a world police force to enforce it’s laws. The Clark-Sohn Book, World Peace through World Law, spelled out these changes in detail, with supporting explanations of all provisions. 

        But whatever Clark’s influence locally, nationally, and globally, the Clark Botanic Garden would not exist were it not for his wife, Fanny Dwight Clark. They were a deeply devoted couple, and the talents of the two were remarkably complimentary. He could barely drive a car, much less change a tire. She was the family engineer, architect, decorator, gourmet food provider, farmer, landscape designer, and, above all, garden designer and horticulturalist. Starting in the early 1920s with sandy, gravelly ten acres of scrub and grass along the Oyster Bay branch of the LIRR railroad tracks on I.U. Willets Rd. in Albertson, she imported boxcars of topsoil and laid out lawns and plantations of trees and shrubs, white pines, hemlock, and flowering cherries, to make a simple but agreeable landscape, requiring a minimum of maintenance. 

        Time passed and the Clark children grew up, WWII came and went and Grenville and Fanny Clark spent more time elsewhere, especially in Dublin, New Hampshire.  Aside from his contributions to our country as far as selective service, working with the UN, and establishing the legal defense fund for the NAACP, Grenville Clark was truly a visionary.  After Fanny Clark passed, he dedicated his property to be a twelve-acre horticultural living museum in 1966.  Now, forty years later, Clark Botanic Garden stands as one of the few open spaces left in Nassau County—an oasis in the middle of suburbia—a testament to Clark’s vision.


       (excerptions reprinted with permission from The Nassau County Historical Society Journal:
         Spencer, Louisa Clark. "The Clarks of Clark Botanic Garden." Issue 58 (2003): 14-22.)



        “A primitive forest of five hundred or a thousand acres where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever.”

        -Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) on a wilderness park, an asset he believed
         every town should have.


193 I.U. Willets Road | Albertson, NY 11507 | (516) 484-8600
Copyright 2006 © The Town of North Hempstead, Clark Botanic Garden