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1. Shaw Nature Reserve - a 2,400-acre extension of the Missouri Botanical Garden
in Gray's Summit - is home to a diverse array of native animals and plants. 2. The
botanical garden contains a 14-acre Japanese Garden. 3. A bee searches for nectar in a
black-eyed Susan. 4. The nature reserve visitor center and Bascom House are open to
visitors daily and closed on most major holidays.
that had gone missing there earlier.
Henry found the shipment, but he couldn't sell the wares down south.
Hoping to ﬁnd better markets, Shaw boarded a steamboat and traveled
up the Mississippi. In his biographical notes he later wrote, "On May
3, 1819, I arrived at a small French village on the Mississippi called St.
Louis." He decided to open a hardware store there.
Shaw's timing was perfect. Although the fur trade that gave birth to
the French settlement had fallen on hard times, demand for hardware
was growing. Soldiers at the frontier posts, immigrants moving west,
and Native American traders all needed supplies. He worked tirelessly,
and his business prospered. Proﬁt from his various ventures earned him
almost $23,000. In 1839, he retired from the hardware business.
Even as a school boy in England, Shaw had an afﬁnity for nature, and
visiting European gardens deepened his interest. In 1851, after seeing
the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and Chatsworth gardens in Devonshire, England, he was inspired to create his own. Two important things
would set his garden apart from most of its European counterparts,
though. His would be a true botanical garden with an extensive scientiﬁc
program. Also, his garden would be open to the public.
Shaw began investing in real estate in his retirement. In 1842, he
bought 760 acres of land southwest of St. Louis, where he built his
country estate, Tower Grove - now a neighborhood of the sprawling city.
This land would be a base for his future garden. Yet there were obstacles. Shaw was not a trained botanist. He needed expert advice.
In February 1856, Shaw wrote a letter to the most qualiﬁed man
in the ﬁeld, Sir William Jackson Hooker, director of the Royal Botanic
Gardens, Kew: "I take the liberty of addressing you ... having a desire
to found and endow a public botanical garden ... I wish to obtains such
hints and information as may be useful to me." Later, he contacted both
Asa Gray, a leading 19th century American botanist, and George Engelmann - a German immigrant, St. Louis physician and passionate botanist. On the combined advice of the three men, Shaw began studying
garden catalogs and read books about botany and horticulture. He also
hired fellow English immigrant and prominent St. Louis architect George
I. Barnett to design build a museum with a library and herbarium.
His project wasn't easy. The harsh climate and the soil of the Midwest
were different from those in England. Still, Shaw persevered. He continued his correspondence, built walls around the garden to prevent animals from damaging his plants, dug trenches and put in drains.
Shaw pressed on, and the Missouri Botanical Garden, as he named it,
opened on June 15, 1859. It was a garden like none other in the country: open to all classes of society, the old and the young, the rich and the
poor. It was also free - the only request was to sign the guestbook. All,
as Shaw himself put it in his Guide to the Missouri Botanical Garden,
"for the use and gratiﬁcation of man."
The garden quickly became an admired institution throughout the
country. Many distinguished Americans came to see it. John Adams, the
son and the grandson of American presidents, signed the guestbook in
1860, and Mark Twain praised it in his "Life on the Mississippi."
With the garden established, Shaw embarked on other philanthropic
pursuits. He endowed the Henry Shaw School of Botany at Washington
University in St. Louis and helped found the Missouri Historical Society,
Shaw died on August 25, 1889, at the age of 89. The Chicago Tribune
described his funeral cortege as "one of the largest ever seen in St. Louis," while the New York Daily Tribune obituary added, "This was a career
Rural Missouri - January 2020
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