It is a matter of tribal knowledge that Hugh Taylor Birch gave Glen Helen to Antioch College in 1929, and that then College President Arthur E. Morgan is the one who made it happen, attracting Mr. Birch back to his alma mater with the great energy and innovation that was the character of his presidency. The unsung hero in the tale of Glen Helen, however, was Lucy Griscom Morgan. The College’s first lady was a botanist and nutritionist and one of the first woman science graduates in the history of the University of Pennsylvania. As she wrote in her delightful narrative Pioneering Days at Antioch College, she was going on vacation to Florida with a friend, Sara Chambers, when Fressa Baker, assistant to the president, asked Mrs. Morgan if she would make contact in Fort Lauderdale with “a wealthy man who had all but graduated in 1869 and could help, but that the college had never been able to get the slightest response from him.” Lucy made the always crucial first impression on Birch that influenced him to make the most monumental donation to Antioch College in its history: Glen Helen. Her initial report of that visit, reprinted below, was a personal letter to her husband.
Sat., March 10, 1927
A week since we spent the day together.
We left Coral Gables yesterday AM – arrived at Fort Lauderdale about 11 and began to inquire for Mr. Birch. “Bonnet House” is his estate where he lives like an old time plantation owner. It was a wonderful experience. We rang at a gate and no one came. About the time I gave up hope an auto drove up with an old man, two ladies and a chaufer. I said “Is this Mr. Birch? I am Mrs. Morgan.” He said, “Bless your heart I've been looking for you every day.” He insisted we stay to lunch which was exquisite. The two ladies were very cordial but we have no idea what relation they have there. An old colored man and the housekeeper all call him “Big Boss.” His daughter died about a year ago. His son-in-law had just left. He is a director of the Chicago Art Inst. and, I judge, very wealthy. There was no mention of grandchildren. Mr. Birch's summer home is near Sedgewicks or Beverly [Massachusetts]. He says he works in the summer but is a real horticulturist down here. We took us a long walk about among all sorts of trees and gardens. He has about a square mile I judge on the ocean and back to the lake. He has dredged his own canal and wants advice about protecting the sides. He had himself an idea of using piles of T iron.
I think he and thee would have a glorious time together. He was looking for thee to come with me for some reason. He will be here until May 1 and would like thee to come anytime thee could. He admires Antioch Notes and asked if thee wrote them.
He asked about old time folks at Antioch. He is a devotee of brown bread. I told him about Grinnell [Mill] still keeping on and he was greatly tickled and wants to try the flour. I wish you would send him 5lbs. and some cereal.
He mentioned his relatives, said he would enjoy visiting us and the college but did not care to see the village. I told him it had greatly improved. He said the [1926 Great Miami] hurricane hit him badly but he intended to help Antioch soon. He was most friendly and we were there until 4 p.m. as they were getting a cool drink ready when we proposed leaving soon after our walk.
Sara and I both felt it was really a good visit for Antioch and we enjoyed it immensely. Hadn't thee better come see [illegible] and him and drive home with us?
I am writing in the auto in Palm Beach in a hurry.