Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: McAllisterville, Juniata County
Founder of the American Rose Society and advocate of urban beautification, J. Horace McFarland was born in McAllisterville.
Born September 24, 1859, in McAlisterville, Pennsylvania, J. Horace McFarland was raised to value nature and grew up to become a tireless advocate for urban beautification and civic reform. A master printer by profession, McFarland was able to write several books on gardening, including How to Grow Roses (1937) which is highly regarded among rose growers. He was president of the American Civic Association from 1904-1924, and was instrumental in establishing The American Rose Society and National Park Service. His lifework in urban beautification began in the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1891. McFarland died in Harrisburg in 1948.
J. Horace McFarland was born September 24, 1859, in McAlisterville, Pennsylvania. He moved to Harrisburg with his parents George Fisher McFarland and Adeline Dellicher Griesemer following the Civil War. At the age of 12 and with only four years of formal education, McFarland began working at his father's printing shop in Harrisburg. At the age of 16, McFarland worked on a reform newspaper started by his father entitled The Temperance Vindicator. His interest in plants and outdoor beauty developed when his father opened the Riverside Nurseries alongside the Susquehanna River.
By age 19, McFarland opened his own printing business called Mount Pleasant Press and began publishing gardening and seed catalogs. His printing business focused primarily on horticultural printing, and his groundbreaking use of color photographs helped his company become the premier publisher of garden catalogs in the United States. The success he found in the printing world allowed him the financial freedom to begin his life work as a civic activist and conservationist.
In addition to being a master printer and brilliant photographer, McFarland also became recognized as an expert gardener and writer whose books on roses, trees, and gardens became famous across the country. In 1904, he wrote his first book, Getting Acquainted with the Trees, which went on to gain recognition as one of the “best books” of the year by the New York Public Library. He wrote more than a dozen books on roses which helped lead to the foundation of The American Rose Society, which became a world renowned institution. As president of the society, he became known as “Mr. Rose” after establishing an excellent method of identification and classification that is still used today. In fact, his 1937 book entitled How to Grow Roses is regarded as the authority by thousands of rose growers. This book includes detailed diagrams, specific directions for growing all types of roses, and vibrant color photographs. Furthermore, McFarland shows his deep concern for his work by writing about roses as if each one is a person. Throughout the book he makes statements such as, “Roses will not tolerate wet feet” and “Roses enjoy a neutral to slightly acid soil.”
McFarland's work extended far beyond rose cultivation. His civic involvement began in 1891 when he became dedicated to improving the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. When he began, the Susquehanna River and city streets were filled with garbage and ashes, causing illness and even death to city residents. The city also lacked green parks and fields, so McFarland worked tirelessly to confront citizens with these issues and to create policies to bring about change. Along with architect Warren Manning, he developed a plan to bring about striking changes to the city. Parks, new sewage systems, and filtered water were all aspects of this plan which brought about dramatic improvements to Pennsylvania's state capital.
As McFarland's life work propelled him further into national prominence, he became an influential figure. In 1904, he was named the first president of the American Civic Association, a group that became instrumental in improving the natural beauty of cities across America. McFarland served as president from 1904 through 1924, and in that span was able to lead preservation campaigns throughout the country. He used his position as president to gain support from the Roosevelt administration to protect the Niagara Falls region from the construction of hydroelectric plants. He was also a driving force behind the 1916 establishment of the National Park Service, which was crucial to the protection of lands throughout the country. McFarland used his status to fight for the preservation of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks as well. He personally visited over 500 U.S. cities to guide local action for improvement. McFarland did not want to simply pass laws to bring about change, but rather believed in using education and persuasion to make citizens want to improve their surroundings.
This desire for beautification was epitomized in McFarland's home life. In 1909, he purchased 2.4 acres of land in Harrisburg and named it “Breeze Hill.” McFarland became known for his Breeze Hill home, as its gardens and superb landscaping became famous. Warren Manning helped to design Breeze Hill, and in the end it became quite picturesque. Breeze Hill became a test site for the American Rose Society, and its gardens provided McFarland with a plethora of subjects to photograph.
J. Horace McFarland dedicated his life to making the United States a more beautiful place by preserving its natural splendor. In 1942, he was recognized for his work by winning the Dean Hole Memorial Award from the Royal National Rose Society. McFarland died October 2, 1948, in Harrisburg. In 1952, an award was created in his name to inspire amateur rose gardeners in America.
Getting Acquainted with the Trees. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1904.
The Rose in America. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1923.
Modern Roses: A Uniform Descriptive List of all Important Roses in Commerce. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1930.
How to Grow Roses. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1937.
Garden Bulbs in Color. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1938.
Modern Roses II. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1940.
Modern Roses III: A Uniform Descriptive List of all Roses in Commerce or of Historical or Botanical Importance. Harrisburg, PA: J.H. McFarland Co., 1947.
Roses of the World in Color. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1947.
Memoirs of a Rose Man: Tales from Breeze Hill. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1949.
The Awakening of Harrisburg: Some Account of the Improvement Movement Begun in 1902: With the Progress of the Work to the End of 1906. Philadelphia: National Municipal League, 1907.