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Forgotten Girl Scout Gardens #2

Aunt Helen's Herb Garden

This garden actually still exists, under the banner of Storrowton Herb Garden. Although the current curators know about the Girl Scout connection, it seems that Girl Scouts themselves don't know or remember it much. It is located on the Storrowton Villiage Museum site on the Eastern States Exposition grounds in West Springfiled, MA.

"Aunt Helen" is in reference to Helen Osborne Storrow, a pillar of Girl Scouting, amongst a lifetime of volunteer work in many fields. Back in 1935, when the Aunt Helen's Herb Garden was gifted to Helen, she was known as Mrs. James Storrow, or Nell to her friends.
Girl Scouts of the New England area had a long history of volunteering with one of Helen's pet projects, Storrowton. She had spearheaded the effort to save historical buildings from the region and move them, piece by piece, to the Eastern States Exposition grounds. In all, 9 buildings were moved and placed around a traditional village green. Then the buildings were returned, as best that could be managed, to their original glory. Behind the Gilbert House is where the garden was created. 

Original Plans for the garden, as found in "Aunt Helen's Garden, an Herb Garden in Storrowton, by Ernestine Perry, 1983

In secret, with the help of Grace Kirkwood, former Girl Scout, teacher and experienced landscape architect who drew of the plans, this authentic colonial-style herb garden was built and filled. This included a stone wall surrounding the garden, paved pathways and items related to maintaining the garden. It's recorded in newspapers that over 3,000 Girl Scouts contributed their time, energy and herb plant donations. Helen was thrilled when the garden was presented to her.

Sadly, in 1936 the area was devastated when flooded. An article in the Burlington Free Press on Oct. 2, 1936 marveled at the "high water 1936" plaques found on second-floor level on the outside of the Storrowton Village buildings. It's not recorded how the garden fared, but it was soon set to rights and continued on.

Girl Scouts continued to service the garden and volunteer to work in and around Storrowton Village, working as tour guides for this destination location, or serving tea & herbed crumpets to the visiting dignitaries. Girls were selected to volunteer and competition was high. Girls had to be long-standing Girl Scouts with good reputations, able to work in varied settings and maintain their uniforms. Usually 2 from each New England area (area was not defined - maybe "council" in modern terms?) and they had to be reliable.

There remains the story of the 1938 hurricane that hit Storrowton, as noted in the September 30, 1938 issue of the Burlington Free Press. The village, being as authentic as possible, did not have electricity in the buildings. Girl Scouts used candles to navigate at night during their stays. Knowing that a storm was brewing the Girl Scouts efficiently closed up all the windows and blinds. Early the following morning, before daylight, the handyman of the village sets off the fire alarms and runs through the village, telling all to "get out" in all haste, as the dam had burst. The writer of this story noted that the Girl Scouts were found in the village green with their leader, calmly taking directions to get all the overnight guest to safety.

Once everyone was moved to higher ground at the West Springfield YMCA, the Girl Scouts quickly began to register all the refugees who had arrived from the surrounding areas. The story ends well, the dam hadn't burst but it makes for interesting reading (see article - right).

BY 1941 Storrowton Village was closed to the public, as the military had been settled into the Eastern States Exposition grounds. There was a war on.

In 1944 Helen died, and it seems some of the Girl Scout Spirit left with her. It didn't reopen until 1947, when a newspaper noted that Mrs. Schuyler F. Herron had returned to Storrowton and was working to restore it.

In 1948 delegates to the 12th World Conference for Girl Scouts and Girl Guides were taken to Storrowton Village and most assuredly viewed the famed Aunt Helen's Herb Garden. Also in 1948, this garden was sending cuttings and seeds to garden clubs in other states to help with their herb gardens.


(L) Gilbert House, Library of Congress image                             (R) Early postcard of Storrowton, Gilbert House on right, no trees!

By 1950 the ties between the Girl Scouts and Aunt Helen's Herb Garden were fading. Certainly, Storrowton has never forgotten. In 1983 the Herb Quarterly magazine published a 20-page booklet about the garden - Aunt Helen's Garden, An Herb Garden in Storrowton, by Ernestine Perry. This includes the story, lists of plantings in the garden, recipes using those same herbs as well as a few images. The booklet was an enticement to subscribe to the magazine, and apparently was sold independently of the magazine as well.

This booklet also mentions that an article about the garden was published in the September 1936 issue of the Girl Scout Leader magazine. The garden was awarded a bronze medal by the New England Wildflower Preservation Society for  "meritorious work in conservation." The garden won 1st prize for junior organization projects in the Western Massachusetts Highway and Community Beautification Contest sponsored by the Springfield Union. Then Helen had the flagstone marker of the garden raised and the records were stored underneath. The bronze medals were set in each corner of the flagstone tablet.

If you're ever in the West Springfield, MA area with a little time on your hands, stop by and visit this Girl Scout Landmark. 
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