Tyler Formal Gardens History
Indian Council Rock was originally purchased as a country retreat for the Tylers, who lived on Philadelphia’s Main Line at Georgian Terrace in Chestnut Hill. George Frederick Tyler (1883–1947), scion to a banking and investment family of Mayflower descendants, was a prominent banker, progressive farmer, and avid sportsman whose leisure activities included safari hunting, mountain climbing, and yacht sailing.
Throughout much of her life, Stella Elkins Tyler(1884–1963), the granddaughter of William L. Elkins (for whom Elkins Park, Pa., was named), was a strong supporter of the arts. She also was a late-blooming sculptor who studied under Boris Blai. Blai later became Dean of the Tyler Art School of Temple University, which was endowed by Stella Tyler. Her tapestries and statuary are still displayed in the mansion and gardens.
After World War I, the Tylers began purchasing a number of small farms in the Newtown area, including the Solly and Cooper farms, and eventually acquired close to 2,000 acres. The Tylers chose the location of their Bucks County home in 1928, and its construction began in 1930.
In 1932, the Tylers permanently moved to Indian Council Rock, and George Tyler established a stable of about 25 fine horses and restarted a dairy that had been abandoned in 1925. The new dairy was in operation for the next 40 years, and the Tylers had one of the leading Ayreshire herds in the country. The Tylers also raised grain, poultry, sheep, and pigs, and owned the Spring Garden Mill.
In addition, the Tylers often purchased rare birds, and many species of wild fowl were bred at Indian Council Rock. The Tylers also acquired exotic plants, flowers, and trees that had never previously been grown in Bucks County, and at one time, it was possible to find trees and flowers growing on the grounds that were found nowhere else in North America.
Tyler Formal Gardens were constructed in the early 1930s by Charles Willing of Willing, Sims and Talbutt to provide a formal landscape setting for the Tylers’ magnificent home and to accommodate the large social gatherings that the couple enjoyed hosting.
The four-tier gardens, positioned on an acre of land, were greatly influenced by French and Italian gardens, and demonstrated characteristics that were common in formal gardens in the Philadelphia area at that time. Architectural plans and photos from the 1930s show four terraces that included gravel walks, fountains, sculptures, staircases, parterres, planting spaces, swimming pool, and tennis courts.
An avid gardener, Stella Tyler introduced countless varieties of flora to her personal horticultural laboratory. And as an accomplished artist, she frequently exhibited examples of her sculptures throughout the gardens, several of which continue to be displayed. In addition to stunning bronze statuary, Tyler Formal Gardens offers dramatic stone walls and staircases that serve as the “bones” of the gardens.