H. H. Hunnewell

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Horatio Hollis Hunnewell
Director of the Illinois Central Railroad
In office
Personal details
Born(1810-07-27)July 27, 1810
DiedMay 20, 1902(1902-05-20) (aged 91)
Wellesley, Massachusetts

Horatio Hollis Hunnewell (July 27, 1810 – May 20, 1902), was a railroad financier, philanthropist, amateur botanist, and one of the most prominent horticulturists in America in the nineteenth century. Mr. Hunnewell was a partner in the private banking firm of Welles & Co. Paris, France controlled by his in-laws which specialized in trade finance between the two countries. Practicing horticulture for nearly six decades on his estate in Wellesley, Massachusetts, he was perhaps the first person to cultivate and popularize rhododendrons in the United States.[1]

H. H. Hunnewell estate, topiary section on the shore of Lake Waban, Wellesley, Massachusetts (1909).


He was born on July 27, 1810. He married Isabella Pratt Welles and together they had nine children.[2]

Hunnewell was a director of the Illinois Central Railroad from 1862 to 1871. He was a railroad entrepreneur in Kansas beginning in the 1860s, and president of the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad[3] and Kansas City, Lawrence and Southern Railroad around 1880. At the time of his death he was a Director of 12 railroads and numerous mining, real estate, and other ventures.

He died at home in Wellesley, Massachusetts on May 20, 1902, at age 91.[1] Hunnewell was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, among his family.

Estate and arboretum[edit]

Starting in 1870, Mr. Hunnewell built country homes adjoining his own for seven of his nine children. These estates and adjacent farmland, with one exception still owned by his descendants, form the Hunnewell Estates Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Both the town of Wellesley (founded 1881) and Wellesley College (chartered 1870) are named for Hunnewell's estate, "Wellesley", which he named for the family of his wife. The H. H. Hunnewell estate includes a prominent 1851 house designed by Arthur Gilman with attached conservatory and gate lodges of 1865-1866 designed by Gridley J.F. Bryant, a pinetum of 325 specimen conifers, a complex of specialty greenhouses, and the first topiary garden - the 'Italian Garden' - in America, all of which are still standing.

The estate is part of the Hunnewell Estates Historic District, which includes the estates of many of his descendants. During the first part of the 20th century there were 20 contiguous for him and his family in Wellesley.[2] Among other miscellaneous activities, Hunnewell owned the home in which Horatio Alger's father lived until his death, now called the Horatio Alger House in Natick, Massachusetts. Oliver Bacon had built this house about 1824, and sold it in 1869 to Hunnewell. In 1909, Hunnewell deeded the property to the First Unitarian Church of South Natick as a parsonage.


H. H. Hunnewell made a donation in 1873 that helped Asa Gray revise and complete his Flora of North America.[4] He also funded the conifer collection at Arnold Arboretum, Boston, Massachusetts, and donated the Arboretum's administration building (now Hunnewell Building) in 1892.

Hunnewell was a friend and neighbor of Henry Fowle Durant (1822-1881), who founded Wellesley College on Lake Waban directly across from Hunnewell's estate. Hunnewell made a donation to the College for Eliot Dormitory in 1887, and endowed the College's Chair of Botany in 1901.

The town of Wellesley's greatest benefactor, Hunnewell built and donated the Wellesley Town Hall and Free Library building (completed 1885), along with 10 acres of adjoining parkland. The Wellesley Free Library has since moved to a new building. He was also a frequent donor, often anonymously, to many town causes. According to a resident at the time, "When leaving here for his winter home (in Boston), Mr. Hunnewell would go to our old Town Clerk, Solomon Flagg, and say to him, 'Be sure and not allow anyone to suffer during cold weather. Send them whatever they need and I will pay the bill.' Mr. Hunnewell and Mr. Flagg were the only ones that knew whose was the helping hand."[5]


The railroad towns of Hunnewell, Kansas, and Hunnewell, Missouri, were named in his honor.[6] The Wellesley College Botanic Gardens has a distinct Hunnewell Arboretum, named in his honor, across the lake. Rhododendron hunnewellianum also honors him. Along with Nathaniel Thayer, Jr, Hunnewell is credited with bringing the game of Real Tennis (a precursor to modern lawn tennis) to America. The game was thought to have first been played in 1876 when Hunnewell and Thayer, who had played the game in England, brought an English professional, Ted Hunt, home with them from Oxford.[7] They built a court on the corner of Buckingham and Dartmouth Streets in the Back Bay section of Boston and put Hunt in charge of it. When the land the court sat on was acquired by the New York & New Haven Railroad towards the end of the century, Hunnewell reorganized the club in a new building at the corner of Hereford and Boylston streets forming the Tennis and Racquet Club of Boston

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "H. H. Hunnewell Dead. Well-Known Financier and Business Man. Long Prominent in the Direction of Several Western Railroads. Public Spirited and Generous and a Horticulturalist of Note". Boston Globe. May 21, 1902. Retrieved October 7, 2010. Horatio Hollis Hunnewell of Wellesley, well known in Boston and indeed throughout the state, died yesterday at Wellesley, aged 91. Death was due to heart disease, but Mr Hunnewell had been in poor health ever since he ...
  2. ^ a b "H.H. Hunnewell, Railroad Baron and Garden Nut". New England Historical Society. Retrieved March 3, 2015.
  3. ^ The Official Railway List. Chicago: Railway Purchasing Agent Company. 1888. p. 103.
  4. ^ Dupree, A. Hunter (1988). Asa Gray, American Botanist, Friend of Darwin. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 348–349. ISBN 978-0-801-83741-8.
  5. ^ Hinchliffe, Elizabeth M. (1981). Five Pounds of Currency, Three Pounds of Corn: Wellesley's Centennial Story. Wellesley, MA: Town of Wellesley. p. 29. ASIN B0006XRXWE.
  6. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 163.
  7. ^ "A Short History: United States Court Tennis Association".

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