Anyone walking the grounds of the huge Quarters One residence on Arsenal Island might notice a small limestone wall in the lawn northeast of what was once the arsenal commander’s home.
The wall looks like it might have been part of a bigger landscape feature, although in glancing around, one sees mostly grass and trees. No landscape features stand out.
But you would be right — the wall was once part of a large “river garden” with trees, ponds and streams built during 1919 under the direction of Adelita Jordan, wife of former commander H.B. Jordan, and at least once referred to as a Japanese garden because at one time it included a tea house perched near the river’s edge.
It’s not known exactly when the garden vanished.
The river garden and other now-vanished landscape features of Arsenal Island — formal flower gardens, cutting gardens, greenhouses, a conservatory filled with tropical plants and World War II Victory gardens — are being brought to light by Beth Cody, a gardening enthusiast and small business owner from Kalona, Iowa, who has published a 66-page booklet titled “Quarters One Gardens.” The booklet was an outgrowth of information she gathered while researching Midwest Japanese gardens for the Muscatine Art Center, as reported in the Oct. 31 Quad-City Times.
Cody found virtually no written documentation about gardens on the island, but was able to piece together a likely story based on photographs from the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, Davenport Library, Putnam Museum and Augustana College, and newspaper articles about social events taking place in the gardens. She also dug up information about a Japanese landscape architect named T.R. Otsuka, whose work depicted in a nursery catalog of the time looks very much like the river garden on Arsenal Island. This led Cody to conclude that he likely was the river garden’s architect.