The gently rolling terrain that is the site of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was once the hunting ground of Powhatan Indians, known to the Powhatan as “Oughnum”. A prominent Quaker named John Pleasants became the first owner of the land, followed by Thomas Williamson, who purchased the tract for less than 50 pounds in 1716; over the next 89 years ownership of the land remained, for the most part, in the Williamson family.
Violence erupted in 1781 when Samuel Williamson’s home was pillaged by General Benedict Arnold’s Revolutionary War raid on Richmond. Oak Cottage was built during this time, and a portion of the Williamson land along with this cottage was purchased by Virginia Governor Patrick Henry in 1786. An outdoorsman, the liberty lover fished and hunted on the land, much as the earlier Native American inhabitants had done. He sold the parcel to James Thompson in 1788. The property, described as “healthy, well-watered, in a good neighborhood” was sold at auction in 1828, and over the next fifty-odd years its owners were successively, Newton Hill, James Hill, Jr., Nathaniel King and Mildred King Ladd.
Richmond Major Lewis Ginter purchased the 10 acres of which were to become the Lakeside Wheel Club, Bloemendaal Farm and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. The millionaire’s avid interest in planned, landscaped suburban development began during a visit to his company’s Australian office in 1888. The attractive residential developments in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne prompted Major Ginter’s desire to create the same settings in Richmond.
Lewis Ginter died of diabetes at Westbrook in October 1897 at the age of 73. An obituary noted that
“Death could not have torn from Richmond a more useful and beloved citizen.”
A large portion of his estate, as well as his keen desire to enhance the life of Richmonders, was inherited by his niece, Grace Arents. After her uncle’s death, Arents remodeled the Wheel Club in Dutch colonial style, named it Bloemendaal Farm and made it her home. Bloemendaal Farm soon became a model for the best agricultural practices of the day. In her will, Arents honored her beloved uncle by giving Bloemendaal Farm to the City of Richmond as a botanical garden and public park in memory of her Uncle Lewis Ginter to be known as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden holds its reputation as a leader in botanical and applied horticultural research.