Dr. J. Horace McFarland (1859-1948) was a man of many talents and interests. He was a rosarian, civic reformer, preservationist, writer, printer, horticulturist and photographer. His early success as a printer allowed him the financial freedom to devote his life to advocate for urban beautification in his hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He eventually set his sights across the United States as President of the American Civic Association. McFarland staunchly advocated for the preservation of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Everglades, and the Glacier Bay and Jackson Hole National Monuments. He also rallied against the New York power industry to save Niagara Falls from commercial exploitation.
McFarland began advocating as early as December 1911 for a bureau for the national parks at an American Civic Association Conference in Washington, D.C. In 1912, President William Howard Taft sent a letter, written by McFarland, to Congress urging legislators that the adoption of a bill to create a federal bureau for the parks was “essential to the proper management of those wondrous manifestations of nature, so startling and so beautiful that everyone recognizes the obligations of the Government to preserve them for the edification and recreation of the people.” On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Act. After the Act’s passing, McFarland remained influential as a member of the National Park Trust Fund. His advice on new appointments to the agency was sought out even into the 1930s by Harold Ickes, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior.
McFarland’s archival papers are located at the Pennsylvania State Archives; many of the letters McFarland wrote during his lifetime are highlighted in Ernest Morrison’s biography, “A Thorn for Beauty.” The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens includes over 3,500 photographs and glass lantern slides of gardens throughout the United States dating from 1900 to 1962 in the J. Horace McFarland Collection. These include a substantial number of images of his home and garden, Breeze Hill, in Harrisburg which was designed by landscape architect Warren Manning (another supporter of the National Park Service Bill).
--Kelly Crawford, Museum Specialist
Archives of American Gardens