The Beacon Hill Garden Club was conceived during the last years of the "Roaring Twenties," a Golden Age of post-war exuberance during which the Beacon Hill neighborhood experienced a resurgence of popularity and a growing sense of community. Following decades of decline, The Hill was again seen as a desirable place to live, and new families arrived to buy up and restore some of the neglected properties.
A common feature of these charming old houses was the walled yard behind the dwelling, an area that in the nineteenth century needfully accommodated such domestic necessities as laundry lines, a woodshed, an outhouse, and a trash pit. Before long, some of the new residents recognized the potential of these compact outdoor spaces and converted them into pleasant little gardens. And thus it was that in September of 1928, a group of Beacon Hill residents gathered with the purpose of forming a neighborhood club devoted to the pleasures and perils of urban gardening.
It was a diverse group, counting among them five married couples, three single men, and eleven unmarried ladies. They met at the neighborhood landmark, the "Sunflower Castle," at 130 Mount Vernon Street, then the home of Gertrude Beals Bourne. By all accounts, Mrs. Bourne was the moving force in the founding of the club. The wife of Frank A. Bourne, a prominent colonial revival architect and founder of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, Mrs. Bourne was a successful professional watercolorist. Among other notable charter members were Miss Eleanor Raymond, a professional architect who is credited with designing the world's first solar-powered dwelling, and honorary member Arthur Shurcliff, a nationally renowned landscape architect who was enormously influential in the history of American gardening. Mr. Shurcliff's most important commission, the design of the restored gardens at Colonial Williamsburg, began in 1931. His plans still form the basis for landscape design throughout Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area.
In its first year, the fledgling garden club, coeducational and 24 members strong, embarked on two important projects that subsequently became club traditions. In March 1929, members contributed a garden exhibit to the New England Spring Flower Show, and has continued every several years to support that show's parent organization, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Two months later, in May 1929, the club held its first "open gardens tour," charging $1 per ticket to visit 11 different "backyard gardens." The new event was a remarkable success, raising more than $1,000. Members were then invited to offer suggestions for using this money. In the following months the club voted its first set of charitable donations and funded its first civic planting projects. Tour proceeds continue to be allotted annually.
In September of 1929, exuberance began to fade giving way rapidly to a Great Depression. And thus, the Beacon Hill Garden Club came of age during very difficult times. While the 1937 "open gardens tour" netted a dismal $136.47. However, the club persevered noting the effort itself was an affirmation of renewal, benefiting members and the visiting public alike.
But perhaps more than the Depression, the second World War profoundly affected and altered the founding ethos of the club. In 1940, the tour was canceled. When the tour came back the following year, all proceeds were directed to support the British War Relief. In the following years members would "Remember to never forget," and sent floral arrangements and Christmas stockings to the U. S. Naval Hospital in Chelsea.
A Beacon Hill Window Box Contest was initiated in 1958 with prizes given to neighborhood gardeners with the best displays. This contest, now part of the Beautify Beacon Hill program, has become a year-round campaign. It is co-sponsored with the Beacon Hill Civic Association and the Beacon Hill Times.
The Beacon Hill Garden Club became a member of The Garden Club of America in 1972 and in 1977 achieved 501(c)(3) status as a public charity. The club is also a member of the Boston Committee and the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts.