History of Eugene Rhododendron Society and Hendricks Park
James M. Blackford, Eugene, Ore.
Hendricks Park consists of 83 acres of virgin timber on the top and west slope of the promontory between Eugene and Glenwood and overlooks the City and the University of Oregon. T. G. Hendricks in 1906 donated one-half of the land to the City, and the City bought the balance for $5,000.00. It may be reached by way of Fairmount Boulevard to Summit Drive or Birch Lane. These roads were installed very early, but repeatedly have been improved.
Not very much was done with the park for years except that in the mid-twenties an observation tower was placed on the rocky point on the southwest corner of the park near the Herbert Robbins residence. Deer and elk pens were constructed in the thirties and a shelter designed by Art Prescott, while he was still in college, was built with WPA labor.
During the depression and world war II years, Fred Lamb was the only permanent park employee. As a matter of fact, he was the entire park department. During the early forties a small group of men became intensely interested in growing camellias. Not much information could be obtained and they visited back and forth learning what they could from each other. Bill Riddlesbarger was the prime mover in getting them organized into a society and became its first president. The first meeting was held at his home and they later met in the back of Millers Department Store. Among their small number were Marshall Lyons, Bill Riddlesbarger, Dr. Gick, Dr. Barnett, Del James, Joe Hayward, Merle Saunders, Fred Burton, the Clark brothers, Hugh Ford and Dr. Overstreet. No minutes or records were kept. Del James, Marshall Lyons and Dr. Gick also became interested in rhododendrons, and in the late forties they held camellia flower shows in the Eugene Hotel and a large number of ash trays were purchased to be used as containers.
In the fall of 1950, Dr. Royal Gick suggested that their society promote the improvement of Hendricks Park on the basis that the society would furnish the camellias and rhododendron material and supervise the planting and care of the beds, and the City was to furnish the labor, build the park and install the necessary pipe, roads and paths. A letter to that effect was drawn up and submitted to the City Council on November 27, 1950; it met with entire approval and a portion of the park was set aside for that purpose. That portion which is now the Rhododendron Park had been used as a deer pen for several years and as a result there was little brush therein and the terrain was well suited for such a garden. The deer were moved across the road and were given a portion of the elk enclosure in December 1950. Tex Matsler was at this time park director for the City and Paul Beistel acted as park foreman and both of them cooperated in various ways to get the new garden started.
In the winter of 1950, this vicinity experienced a severe freeze which killed many of the camellia bushes and that along with the spring rains, which damaged the blooms, caused a marked loss of interest in camellias. Dr. A. F. Barnett by this time was growing rhododendrons and Del James had converted Dr. Gick to that species. Dr. Gick, about 1950, was appointed director of the American Rhododendron Society and at the urging of those men their Society was changed to the Men's Camellia and Rhododendron Society. Dr. Gick proposed at the meeting on September 8, 1951, that the Society join the American Rhododendron Society as a local chapter and his suggestion was accepted.
In 1952, the City put in a water system throughout the rhododendron garden at a cost of $2,000.00, and Mr. Raup, a local greenhouse man, donated 3000 azaleas, and while they made a great splash of color, the next hard freeze killed most, if not all of them, but it did get the garden off to a good start and created much interest. At the December meeting of the Rhododendron Society, Paul Beistel reported the planting of 53 Rhododendrons, and the next month reported that there had been planted in the garden 203 rhododendrons, most of them large, 99 camellias and 3033 azaleas, as well as miscellaneous other plants.
As soon as the water system had been installed, Marshall Lyons, Royal Lick, Del James and Carl Phetteplace started donating plants. Marshall Lyons bought from the Bartos and gave to the park the now very large plant known as 'Rosemary Chip'. At the time it was purchased it was thought to be the species R. orbiculare. Plant sales were frequently held by the Chapter and the proceeds were used to buy plants for the park from John Henny. In January 1953, ten Exbury azaleas were bought and donated to the park, and in March 1954, Art Wright of Milwaukie donated 28 exceptionally desirable large rhododendron hybrids to the park. Mr. and Mrs. C. B. Cole also gave $500.00 to be used for the purchase of plant material, other than rhododendrons, and many ground covers and other interesting plants were purchased. In November of that year the name was changed to the Eugene Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, and the men decided to give up their bachelorhood and admit women to their organization.
It is really surprising how much was accomplished by so few individuals. Records are rather scanty, but what still exist show that there were only fourteen members in 1950, 19 members in 1951 and 43 members in 1959. The records of the Society go back to 1950 and are very inadequate and incomplete. They improved a little in 1954 and 1955, with better records in 1956, with Mrs. Marshall Lyons, Beth Leavitt and Chairman Gilhausen as secretaries. Full and complete records were kept in 1958 by Mrs. James M. Blackford and have been continued to date. It may be that more complete records once existed but haven't survived.
In the meeting of the Society on November 14, 1955, a Gick Memorial was suggested and it was built and dedicated on May 5, 1957. In December of that year twenty of the large fir trees were removed from the Rhododendron Gardens, as they were causing too much shade.
Rhododendron Shows started soon after the garden was started. Plants were installed in the garden, root balls covered with sawdust, and tables were set up. In 1956 the Show was moved down to the shelter, to try to get out of the rain, and it was held in the same place the next year. In 1958, it was moved back to the park, the next year the display boards were developed, and the Show has been held in the park ever since, the Park Department storing the equipment and boards between Shows.
In April 1961, the Eugene Chapter was incorporated as a non-profit corporation by James M. Blackford and adequate and consistent organization and records have been kept up to date.
In 1955, Ernest Allen was appointed caretaker of the Rhododendron Garden and he continued until 1961 when his work was taken over by Ted Trombert and much of the success of developing the garden is due to the constant effort of these men. Ernest Allen grew many of the seedlings and plants started by Del James, starting in about 1954 and the park has been the recipient of many of his fine crosses as a result. Del James was one of the early rhododendron enthusiasts and during the war he contacted C. P. Raffill, Assistant director of Kew Gardens, and as a result received many fine seeds and other plant material direct from England. During his lifetime, James gave generously to the park and after his death on January 9, 1963, Mrs. Ray James gave a great many plants to the garden, and in addition the Society purchased from her many, many more at a very reasonable price, all of them going into the garden in April of 1963. It has been the desire of all concerned to keep together the plant material gathered by the various men as much as possible. Dr. Lick's has been placed in the Gick Memorial and Del James' plants along the Del James Walk, although many of his early donations were scattered all over the garden.
Numerous members of the Eugene Chapter of the Rhododendron Society have given unstintingly of their time and plant material, such as Dr. Robert Overstreet and Dr. Charlie Thompson, who have not been mentioned previously. Individuals too numerous to mention have also given many fine plants to the park. Whenever a plant too valuable to destroy, outgrows its present location, it usually winds up in the park and the Park Department has always been very accommodating in moving these big heavy plants.
A project that has been going on for years, in which the Society has always taken a keen interest, is the collection of plants originating with James Barto, an early, very knowledgeable rhododendron pioneer who raised rhododendrons on his farm west of Junction City in the thirties and before anyone here started to take much interest. Upon his death in 1940, his plants became scattered and it has been a real effort to gather a representative collection. The Barto plants have been collected in a planting in a small valley behind the Gick Memorial. These consist of the original plants or clonal divisions from his plants. There are exotic large leafed rhododendrons, identified species, unnamed hybrids and a few unidentified species.
During 1967 and 1968 the city has carried on an extensive improvement program in the vicinity of the rhododendron garden. Summit Drive has been relocated, lighting installed, new walks built and a beautiful new entrance constructed and the garden has been considerably enlarged. New plants have been added and many plants that needed transplanting because of crowding have been moved.
The Rhododendron Garden of Hendricks Park can compare with any in the Nation and is now nationally known. It contains rare plant material not found elsewhere, even in England, and will continue to grow over the years. It has been the subject of articles in national magazines and the Mecca of thousands of people annually; many of them coming long distances to visit it. Its setting is without equal and is one park that Eugene can be very proud of. Much of the balance of the park is still in a primitive condition with a heavy forest cover, its potential is unlimited and should be developed as fast as funds would permit. Right now the Rhododendron Garden has grown so large that it is impossible for one caretaker to adequately care for it and soon additional help must be employed or loss of plants will result.
It is amazing that so much could have been accomplished in the short span of only eighteen years. Parks not only require land and money, but also time to develop. Hendricks Park is another example of private individuals working in cooperation with the Government for the public good and is another example of what can be accomplished even by a few.