John B. Kendrick came to Wyoming in 1879 as a poor, orphaned cowboy, and began building a ranching empire. By the early 1900s, he had amassed a wealth that allowed him to start construction on his dream home, a “castle on a hill” in Sheridan, Wyo.
Trail End, the home Kendrick built, was completed in 1913, giving the ambitious businessman and politician little time to enjoy it before he was elected governor of Wyoming in 1914 and then U.S. senator in 1916.
The Flemish-revival style home was technologically advanced for its time, and included an elevator, a house-wide stationary vacuum cleaner, intercom system, telephones and more.
It’s grounds carried their own distinction.
Kendrick hired the Minneapolis-based landscaping firm of Morell & Nichols to draw up plans for the grounds of Trail End, which sits on a 3.8-acre property.
These are the first known professional landscaping plans drawn up for any private home in Wyoming.
Morell & Nichols designed Trail End’s grounds in what is known as the natural style. This meant forgoing the formal gardens and structured hedges seen at many grand homes of this era for more casual outdoor spaces marked by clusters of trees mixed with flowering plants and shrubs.
“A century ago in Wyoming we weren’t really big into formal, so you didn’t see a lot of formal gardens,” said Trail End Site Superintendent Cynde Georgen. “They could have done that here quite easily and it would have suited the grounds but these architects went with the natural style.”
Original trees remain
Today, many of the trees that were originally planted in 1914 at Trail End remain. Thanks to constant care and deliberate watering over the years, many of them have outlived their expected life cycles.
Of six Japanese lilac trees that were originally planted at the property, two remain.
“We were talking to the state forester not long ago, and he said they are by far the oldest in the state that he’s ever seen,” George said. “They bloomed this year.”
A Lombardy poplar on the grounds has surpassed the century mark–quite an achievement for a species that typically isn’t expected to last longer than 50 years.
Perhaps the most unusual tree on the property is the southern catalpa, Georgen says, a species that usually isn’t found north of Kentucky or Missouri.
“It’s battled through over a hundred years up here and it still blooms every spring,” she said. “Every year, we don’t think it’s going to come back because it’s the last thing to leaf out.”
The orchid-like blooms put on a stunning show for about a week each spring.
Georgen loves to tell the stories of the plants at Trail End, and she found Plants Map while searching for identification plaques for the trees.
Plants Map’s interactive plant signs and tags, with their QR codes that link smartphone users to a plant’s profile page on PlantsMap.com, are something she’d like to implement. Trail End is accessible to the public at all times, and having this information available around the clock could enhance a visitor’s experience even when staff aren’t available.
Georgen also plans to populate Trail End’s Plants Map profile with as many plants as possible from the Trail End grounds, in order to better tell the stories of the plants that have withstood a century or more, and those that have been newly discovered.
Records are vital
The value of this kind of documentation is not lost on Georgen. In her work, she constantly refers to diary entries, nursery invoices and correspondence from the landscape architects from the years when Trail End was being built to identify plants and search for any remains of original landscaping.
She recently found some sweet pea vines that were part of the original plantings on the grounds. Georgen worked from a 1920s photograph that showed a wall covered with sweet peas. Amid her search, she found and documented another plant that had made a home in the garden, the matrimony vine.
This intermingling of native species with deliberate plantings was exactly what Morell and Nichols intended when they chose the natural style for Trail End.
“We try to stay as true to that as we can,” Georgen said. “We do very judicious pruning, we don’t allow a lot of wholesale hacking. When you go around the grounds it might look a little overgrown, and that is the intention.”
One benefit of that growth is that Trail End has become a lively habitat for wildlife including deer, squirrels, butterflies, hummingbirds and more, in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Birders are drawn to the estate, where hawks, turkeys, woodpeckers and even bald eagles have been spotted.
All of this adds up to a historic home whose exterior features are as rich as its impressive interior.
“It’s a wonderful site that you don’t expect to find in upstate Wyoming,” said Georgen, who has worked at the site for 28 years. “It’s just a little gem.”
To learn more, visit Trail End State Historic Site on Plants Map.