December 7, 2008

Where Have All the Frobel Flowers Gone?

George and Martha Washington met John Jacob Frobel as a young boy after one of his musical performances in New York City in 1789. Impressed with his talent, the Washingtons encouraged Frobel to move to Mount Vernon. John Jacob Frobel was my husband's great-great-grandfather.

It wasn't until 1804 that John Jacob moved to Mt. Vernon to teach music to the nieces and nephews of Judge Bushrod and Anne Washington. Judge Bushrod Washington, the nephew of George, inherited Mount Vernon after Washington's death in 1799. John Jacob lived at Mount Vernon until 1809 when he moved to his Wilton Hill.

The Frobel home, Wilton Hill, was located near Mount Vernon on Franconia Road, only 2 1/2 miles from Alexandria, Virginia. The location of Wilton Hill was near the current site of Sharon Chapel. The Frobel family donated the land for Sharon Chapel in 1849, although the original building has been replaced.

Besides being a musician and piano teacher for Washington family, Frobel was also a plantsman. I have found one reference to John J. Frobel growing seed of a Camellia Japonica that he named 'Judge Bushrod Washington' for his friend.

The Civil War Diary of Anne S. Frobel is a compelling account of daily life at Wilton Hill during the Civil War. John Jacob's two daughters, Anne and Elizabeth, lived alone. The diary details their experiences during the war as well as aspects of living, and farming the land, at Wilton Hill. Anne's appreciation of her father's legacy through his gardens are apparent in this excerpt from her diary:
May 24, 1861 Rose bright and lovely as any May morning ever dawned upon the earth, and every thing about and around us was as serene and peaceful as it could be, not a sound to brake the stillness but the songs of birds and hum of bees. The trees and plants had put on their lovliest spring attire, and the garden was resplendent with the bloom of rare and brilliant flowers, and the fields were all smiling with a bright prospect of an abundant harvest. The beautiful hedges all so evenly shorn, the little gravel paths so neat and clean, the smoothe velvet grass all glittering with dew drops. Every thing about the place was in order and shewed a high state of cultivation. I never saw "Wilton" my dear old home looking more lovely and inviting, and our little Bays when they came around with the carriage for us to take a ride into town, were as feisty and as playful and as fleet as the wind

There is also an account by "The Rambler" in The Sunday Star, Washington, DC on February 7, 1915 regarding Frobel's gardens at Wilton Hill. The article goes on to mention that there are stories of Frobel having assisted with the design in the gardens known as the Nellie Custis Gardens at Mount Vernon. The writer was gathering information from the neighbors of Wilton Hill. Included is this account of the importance of the Frobel gardens:
In many historic places in that neighborhood old men and women are forever pointing out to you some flower or shrub which they prize exceedingly high and they tell you it came from the gardens at Wilton.

I am fascinated with the gardens described by Anne Frobel in her diary and the accounts by "The Rambler" story. What plants were grown at Wilton Hill? Is there anyone, today, who has plants propagated from the Wilton Hill gardens?

Story by Freda Cameron.
Source: Lancaster, Mary H. and Dallas M. Lancaster. The Civil War Diary of Anne S. Frobel. McLean, Va: Friends of Fort Ward, 1992.
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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