THE SECRET TEA ROOM is on a short summer break and will be returning Wednesday, August 28! New dates will be added to the calendar soon.

History: A Legacy of Landscape

Whom are we to thank for founding "The Clearing," and thus establishing the legacy that is the Arboretum we know and love today?

"Three families consecutively owned "The Clearing", an 1889 country estate in Summit, New Jersey, until it became the Reeves-Reed Arboretum in 1974. In their everyday lives, these families pursued a love of the land that flourished into a legacy. Appreciative of nature, they enhanced the grounds while neither reconfiguring nor muting its beauty."

- Prologue, The Clearing on the Hill; The Story of the Reeves-Reed Arboretum by Betty McAndrews


During Revolutionary times, the property that is now Reeves-Reed Arboretum was part of a working farm owned by the Swain family. A signal fire was housed on the farm and manned by sentinels who kept careful watch day and night. The beacon, number 10 of 23, was lit to alert George Washington's troops if the British had entered New York harbor. On this site, the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) have placed a stone placard, and in addition to this, we now have a replica signal fire beacon thanks to a local Eagle Scout troop.


In 1889, John Horner Wisner created his country estate and built the Colonial Revival residence, presently the administrative center of Reeves-Reed Arboretum known as Wisner House. For an overall landscape plan, he commissioned Calvert Vaux, a partner of Frederick Law Olmsted in the creation of Central Park's sweeping "greensward" look. Mrs. Wisner planted the first clusters of daffodils that are now a major Arboretum attraction in April. In 1916, the new owners, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Reeves, expanded the daffodil collection and, like the Wisners, were guided by prominent landscape architects Ellen Biddle Shipman in 1924 and Carl F. Pilat in 1924-1925. The 1925 Rose Garden with its connecting rock-pool garden was an implementation of "garden room" landscaping, an emerging trend in country estates. Elegant stone steps cascading from the house were completed by Italian masons and, today as then, represent mastery in stonework. An original Shipman landscape plan and a hand-colored image of Mrs. Reed's azalea garden in the 1930s are part of the Arboretum's archives.

In 1968, the Charles L. Reed family became the last private owners, adding the patterned herb garden, opening woodland trails, and upholding the property's design heritage. When Charles and Ann Reed decided in 1971 to move to Richmond, Virginia, where Charles grew up, they ultimately became pivotal to the concept of converting the private estate to a public educational arboretum. They delayed the sale of the property for more than two years as efforts were materializing to save the estate from being divided and sold for housing plots.


In 1972, when the property was placed on the market, Enid Belding, a Hobart Avenue neighbor, along with a group of Summit citizens, aware of the estate's unique terrain and distinctive gardens, campaigned to purchase the land to preserve it for future generations. With the cooperation and participation of the Reeds, funds were raised to meet most of the selling price. The remaining monies were supplied by the City of Summit, and in 1974, "The Clearing" became Reeves-Reed Arboretum. The City of Summit owns the property but Reeves-Reed Arboretum is a separate, non-profit corporation, operating as an educational institution without city funding or services. Reeves-Reed Arboretum is listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places and is the only arboretum in Union County.