Houston Gardens - 515 23RD AV

 Print Listing Historical Name - Houston Gardens; Houston House
Style - Other Type - Vernacular Salt Box
Built Year - ca. 1920s, 1937
State ID - 5WLXXX4

Description - This vernacular house is a rectangular, two-story, wood frame structure with a wood shingle, side-gabled roof. It has a salt-box-type shape, with the longer slope in the rear on the north side. It has a concrete foundation and wood shingle exterior. The main facade contains an off-centered entrance with a glazed door and a storm door. There is also an entrance on the west elevation with a storm door. This entrance appears to be an addition. The one-story, partial-width porch has a hipped wood shingle roof with a wide frieze board under the eaves. There are two sets of metal support poles with a red brick solid rail. Windows are multi-light, double hung wood frame windows and multi-light wood frame fixed windows. The brick chimney is located on the first story addition/enclosure on the east end of the house. The east wing of the house, which has the brick chimney also appears to be an addition. Interestingly, there is a bomb shelter under the house. Houston Gardens hosts a variety of plants and trees representing four of five life zones in Colorado, ranging from the Plains zone, which includes plants and trees found at elevations of 3,500 - 6,000 feet to the Foothills zone (6,000-8,000 feet) to the Montane Life zone (8,000-10,000 feet) to the Subalpine Life zone (10,000 - 11,500 feet). A walking trail forms an oval through the various zones, with plants indigenous to those zones. The site also includes the Community gardens, which is a long strip of land on the south side of the Houston Gardens site in which Greeley residents grow vegetables and flowers.

Historical Background - Houston Gardens was named for George M. Houston, a prominent citizen of Greeley who served Greeley in many capacities, as a land developer, mayor and senator in the Colorado legislature. He was born in Troy, Ohio in September 1872. George Houston came to Greeley in March of 1890 to attend school and was the second enrollee in the Greeley Normal School. Soon after he arrived, he got a job working as a gardener for Rosene Meeker Skewes, the daughter of Greeley’s founder Nathan Meeker. In an interview in March 1967, he told the Greeley Tribune: “I got the job at her home where the Meeker Museum now is, and I can still see Meeker’s widow sitting in that rocking chair all day long, dressed in black clothes, with a lace cap over her head. Hardly ever spoke. But that daughter of hers. What a cranky gal. Guess it was because her husband ran out on her that made her cranky. Maybe that was why he ran out on her.” He worked for her for about a month, and then began a similar job for Mrs. Burton Sanborn. He graduated in 1893 and taught school for one year in Otis. He returned and went to work for Burton Sanborn, who offered him a partnership in his real estate and land development business. In July 1907 he married the Sanborn’s daughter Gladys in Estes Park. They had one daughter named Phylabe. After Gladys’ death, he married Maud Hartsburg in 1926 in Greeley. Houston served as a state senator from Weld County for four years from 1935-1939. While serving as a senator, he drafted the state sales tax program. Of this accomplishment he said, “It was a high honor for a green senator, and I’m proud to say that within 90 days, the program began to work. It’s a good thing, too, because without that sales tax, property and other taxes today would be murderous.” (Quoted from Greeley Pioneer article “George M. Houston Dies Friday at 95,” April 20, 1968.) Houston also served on the board of trustees of the state’s colleges, including Colorado State College, from 1909-1915 and was mayor of Greeley in 1909 and 1910. He later served as the first director of public welfare in Greeley in 1936 and 1937. Finally, he served as secretary for the Mountain States Beet Growers Association. During his tenure as mayor, he annexed land to the west of 23rd Avenue, which became known as Houston Heights, which includes the area now known as Houston Gardens. He purchased part of the property known later as Houston Heights in 1905 from Menzie T. Cliff, but it is unclear as to when the house was built. He lived in a house on West 9th Street, which may have been what became Miami Farms at 9th Street and 22nd Avenue. He probably moved to the house at 515 23rd Avenue in 1937, but it was likely built prior to that, probably in the 1920s. George had expertise in gardening and farming and also in irrigation and land development. “He and Burton Sanborn are credited with the development and assistance with such projects as the Northern Colorado Irrigation Project, including Fossil Creek Reservoir and Boyd Lake, with laying out the town of Wellington, and for developing a pipeline system that allowed him to draw water from the No. 3 ditch... At that time, Houston owned 360 acres that spanned from 23rd Avenue and 4th Street to beyond 35th Avenue and south to Sanborn Park.” (Quoted from Greeley Style Magazine, June/July 1992, page 11) George died on April 19, 1968 at the age of 95 at his home at 515 23rd Avenue. He lived in Greeley for 78 years, but in the house at 515 23rd Avenue for only 31 years. Prior to moving into the house, they farmed the site. Phylabe Houston donated the land to the Greeley Area Foundation, now the Community Foundation, as a way to commemorate the local pioneers who were instrumental in bringing water to the area. She and her father had planned the gardens after they were inspired by seeing Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. The Assistance League of Greeley began working with her in 1973 as a project for the National Assistance League (NAL), and the NAL approved this project in 1976. She hired Greeley developer Neal Carpenter and landscape architect Jim Sell to help plan the gardens. Since it was established, the site is a destination for school classes, tour groups. The Gardens “facilitate learning for students in botanical and environmental studies, and they recognize the Union Colonists’ contributions in establishing a solid water foundation for irrigation and domestic uses in the northern Colorado plains. In addition they provide a valued tourist attraction for the community-at-large through guided and self-guided tours of the scaled-down Colorado landscape.” (Audrey Blackwell, Greeley Style Magazine, June/July 1992 p.9.) Phylabe and George had three goals when they started planning: “to establish a mountain and plains botanic retreat in an urban area; to demonstrate the necessity for irrigation in the development of a semi-arid region; and to build a living tribute to Union Colony pioneers who in 1870 planted the first trees, diverted the first water and made the desert bloom in Greeley.” (Qtd from Gretchen Cutts, “She Followed Her Dream,” Senior Voice, 24 November 1983) According to a 1984 magazine article, the water for Houston Gardens comes from West Lake Park, once owned by the Houston family, and from the No. 3 Ditch. George laid wooden pipe from West Lake to their land prior to 1910, but the wood was later replaced by concrete and tile.