Two brothers, Robert and Henry, Bob (26 years old) and Hal (30 years) to their friends, lived and worked in New York City.
The Tubbs brothers were enthusiastic gardeners, interested in Horticulture beginning as youths at the family home in Kingston, NY. Robert worked his entire career at the Corn Exchange Bank, now part of J.P. Morgan Chase, in New York City. He was interested in growing woody plants, especially unusual trees and shrubs, pursuing them with a collector’s passion and wanted as many different species as possible.
Hal, affable and gregarious, worked briefly in publishing at Charles Scribner’s Sons. He loved plants and people, books and travel, art and antiques, nature and the land.
In 1908 Hal and Bob went on a quest for a country place near Gladstone, NJ. Disappointed in the grand estate they were shown, Hal pointed to a farmstead surrounded by fields and said “I want one like that farm in the valley — it looks like it would take you by the hand.”
They purchased “Paradise Farm’ with its huge weeping willows lining the brook, swaying toward the frame house and its cluster of outbuildings. The brothers knew they had come home and christened their new property “Willowwood Farm”.
In 1936 Benjamin Blackburn, young author-lecturer-horticulturist, was appointed to the faculty of the College of Agriculture at Rutgers University and he soon met the Tubbs brothers and visited Willowwood. A soft spoken gentleman, with many keen interests, he seems to have fit in perfectly at Willowwood and after World War II ended and Blackburn left the army in 1946, he moved to Willowwood permanently.
With advancing age and his immediate family gone, Henry Tubbs saw Dr. Blackburn as the rightful protector of Willowwood’s future and in late 1949 legally adopted him as his son. On July 2,1958 at age 80, Henry Tubbs signed his will and died three weeks later. A trust reserved an income and use of 30 core acres for the remainder of Ben Blackburn’s life.
On March 13, 1980 the Morris County Park Commission took legal control of Willowwood Arboretum, Dr. Blackburn continued as the administrator of the property, as well as its host. He taught popular field botany classes at Willowwood, sponsored through the Friends of Frelinghuysen Arboretum. He died in 1987 at his beloved Willowwood.
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