by Tracey Kline
For many, the Hedgleigh House on the corner of Swarthmore and Dartmouth Avenues has become an instant wonder. People stop at its barren lawn, observing its previously concealed exterior, speculating aloud about the home’s past and future.
For Bill Menke, however, the house is more than a fleeting curiosity.
“I saw the trees being cut down and thought I might have a photo of the original structure,” Menke said.
Menke acquired late 1880s photos of the property from Charles Cresson, the former owner’s great grandson. These images show how the Hedgleigh House got its name. An Osage Orange hedge bordered the large front lawn, which reached to the railroad tracks. “Leigh” referred to the sweeping piece of low land stretching from the house to the creek, between what is now Amherst and Oberlin Avenues. The original farmhouse was built in the early 1800s, and the front was added in the mid -1800s. The old portion of the house is now the back of a twin, while investor and developer Anthony Prudente is currently renovating the front. Prudente consulted with Cresson about which trees to save on the property (a weeping cherry and a Japanese maple) and which to newly plant.
“Photography always came naturally to me,” Bill says about his interest in the art. He began taking photographs in earnest while in the Peace Corps in Venezuela, and proceeded to take images whenever he and Carol traveled. “As landscape architects,” Bill explained, “we often use photographs to enhance two- and three-dimensional graphics. Analyzing historic views and comparing them to current views is a specialty that we have evolved to show how the passage of time has altered the landscape.”
To supplement their personal collection, the Menkes also possess slides of Swarthmore gardens from the 1920s handed down to them from former neighbor Irma Zimmer. Zimmer, whom they lived next door to for ten years, acquired the glass-plate slides from her mother. In 1990, she gave the slides to the Menkes, knowing they had a strong interest in historic landscape preservation as well as the history of Swarthmore. “In order to make 35mm copies of the fragile glass slides,” Bill explained, “we created a system where they were illuminated from top and bottom, with the camera on a tripod above using a macro Nikon lens and color balance film.” The Menkes retain the majority of the original slides in their collection, but gave originals to the current owners of many of the properties as well as to the Swarthmore Historical Society. They later donated duplicate slides to the Garden Club of America, which had been involved in assembling glass slides and donating them to the Smithsonian. They are available online as part of the Smithsonian “Archives of American Gardens.”
For Menke, landscape photography is a passion. His Ogden Avenue home, an oasis of vibrant blossoms, flourishing trees, and vintage adornments, is a testament to the beauty of carefully planned landscapes. His pictures–two of which were recently selected as finalists in aFewSteps’ recent “A Photo Lovely as a Tree” contest –attest to the importance of preserving that splendor for generations to come.
The key to many of our landscape queries, as his Hedgleigh House photograph exemplifies, can often be found in a single snapshot.
Tracey Kline is a student at Boston College and an intern at aFewSteps, an organization dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our community 20% by 2020.