"Do we want a hum-drum, rubber-stamp town haunted by lovely memories?" - Ravinia: Her Charms and Destiny
"Many bulldozers are drooling." - Chicago Tribune (September 30, 1963)
Why May T. Watts?
May Theilgaard Watts was an influential naturalist and resident of our city, in a part of town known as Ravinia, before joining the Morton Arboretum. She had a lasting impact—a nature trail Watts helped create is now a park named in her honor, down the street from another designed by Jens Jensen.
It's important to note that Watts wasn't a preservationist, she was a naturalist. Her writings show a deep concern for community, and carefully weighs the balance between the built and natural environments. The parallels to today's teardown culture are clear. This was published c. 1936 by the Ravinia Garden Club:
"When their house was being completed they sent out the laborers to clear the property. It was March. No one knew when a clump of trembling aspens followed hawthorns and viburnums and crabs on to the roaring bon-fire. These were all 'underbrush' to the laborers, and they had been ordered to 'Clear out the underbrush.'
When this job was finished, they took the heaped-up soil excavated for the basement, and spread it neatly and firmly to the four exact corners of the property. No one knew when a lush bed of white trilliums and sweet wild phlox was forever buried alive under a blanket of stiff wet clay. Nor did anyone realize that the leveled surface raised the soil several inches around the trunks of those white oaks and hickories that had been marked for preservation, and that this soil was cutting off the air supply of the feeding root tips, so that even these trees must soon die."
"The dying forest trees were gradually replaced, mostly with cottonwoods. Presently there was no undisciplined charm left to distract the inhabitants from a comparative contemplation each others lawns and privet hedges. So they settled down to planting red geraniums on these rectangular graves where they had buried beauty."
Well said, we think.
Photograph by George Zahrobsky, 1965 (Morton Arboretum)
Ravinia: Her Charms & Destiny was reprinted in 1980 by the
Park District of Highland Park & the Highland Park Historical Society.
we say: Thank you.
May T. Watts
AT gmail DOT com