The Sweet Smell of Lilacs Wafted
From 450 West Main in Kent
rea “elders” will recall a once-famed Kent tourist attraction that drew thousands of visitors in a single day. It was the Wolcott Lilac Gardens, and flourished under the loving care of Daisy Lodge Wolcott.
The gardens ranged across the property at 450 West Main Street, the front of which was occupied by a house built in 1869 by Simon Perkins Wolcott. “S.P.” was a descendant of Henry Wolcott, who arrived in America from England in 1633. The house is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.
But getting back to Daisy and her renowned gardens…. Daisy was the wife of distinguished barrister Duncan B. Wolcott, whose father was S.P. Wolcott.
The couple arrived at the house in 1906, but it was Daisy who developed the magnificent gardens and tirelessly cared for them.
Daisy Wolcott in her garden
Her first lilacs arrived in 1920, courtesy of her uncle,
Col. William Plum, of Illinois. He was said to be the owner of the world’s largest collection of French lilacs. Before she would “call it a day,” Daisy’s pride and joy would include more than 100 varieties of lilacs, snowdrops, daffodils, and even cherry trees.
Mother’s Day kicked off the annual “tourist season” at the Wolcott Lilac Gardens.
It was estimated, that on “opening day,” from 4,000 to 8,000 persons would visit the aromatic acreage at 450 West Main. Over the years, several presidents and numerous other dignitaries were among the flora’s admirers.
Although the family was wealthy and “well connected,” after Duncan’s death in 1930 times were harder, and Daisy maintained the house and grounds by charging 25 cents per visitor. (There were four children to raise.) Daisy herself passed away in 1955. One son was Henry, who later lived in Randolph and remembered his mother as a nature lover and as a woman with a deep work ethic.
Daisy’s father-in-law, Simon Perkins Wolcott, arrived in Kent in 1867, working as an attorney for the Atlantic & Great Western R.R. which had penetrated the city four years earlier. A close friend of William McKinley, he went on to become a two-term mayor of Kent and a two-term Ohio state senator.
After Daisy’s death, the couple’s sons honored her wishes to maintain the gardens and kept the tradition alive for some years. When they were unable to continue the task, the house and grounds were sold, and have had several owners in the ensuing years.
Not all the occupants were kind to the house, which fell into somewhat of a state of disrepair, and the gardens were allowed to become a tangled jungle. Later, however, the house underwent extensive repairs. The gardens were cleaned up and rejuvenated and experienced some semblance of their former glory.
It is not known with certainty what the future holds for this site of the famed Wolcott Lilac Gardens. But now, everyone concerned is aware of, and sensitive to, the storied historical significance of the house and grounds. Thus, prospects for their preservation are much enhanced.
And Daisy’s spirit still seems to be walking among the fragrant bushes, pruning here, and planting there.