The new Tyler Family Garden includes bronze busts of three members of this extraordinary family – Lyon Gardiner Tyler, the 17th president of William and Mary; his father, the 10th U.S. President, John Tyler, who served as rector and chancellor of the college; and Lyon Gardiner Tyler’s grandfather, John Tyler, who served as the 18th governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The Tyler Family Garden is the final element of a $5 million endowment gift from Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Ruffin Tyler, son of Lyon Gardiner Tyler, to the college’s history department. The garden is located outside James Blair Hall, the building on campus that houses the college’s history department, now named the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History.
“The college owes its modern successes – its very existence, in fact – to Harrison’s father, Lyon Gardiner Tyler,” President Timothy J. Sullivan said during a ceremony at the garden. “In 1888 he inherited a college that barely deserved the name; 30 years later William and Mary was a state institution – a college whose future was secure.”
When Lyon Gardiner Tyler became president of the college in 1888, William and Mary was struggling through a period of decline following the Civil War. At the time, the college had only six faculty members, its three main buildings were dilapidated and its endowment was just $20,000. Under Tyler’s leadership, the college was able to renovate or construct 12 buildings and increase its endowment to $154,000. By the time he retired in 1919, the college’s faculty had increased to 14 and William and Mary’s enrollment had grown to more than 200 students. Tyler also led successful efforts to establish a program for women and to make William and Mary a public institution.
“I wanted to establish this in remembrance of my father’s major contribution to William and Mary,” Harrison Tyler said. “The college was struggling to exist when he took an interest in it. He became the first president of the college as a state institution and this was the great project of his life. With this garden, and the endowment in his name, I hope people remember his part in making the college one of our country’s leading institutions of higher education.”
Thanks to the Tylers’ endowment gift three years ago, the history department has been able to offer Lyon Gardiner Tyler Scholarships to two dozen undergraduate students; 30 faculty and graduate students have used Lyon Gardiner Tyler Fellowships to conduct research across the world, including Ecuador, Poland, India and Jamaica; and the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Lecture Series has brought accomplished historians of the Civil War, Native America and the Cold War to campus. In addition, the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Library Endowment has made possible a number of significant acquisitions and supported the preservation of historic documents in the college’s special collections.
“In short, the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History has compounded its teaching and research successes – extended its national and international reputation – and in so doing, has honored the memory of one of William and Mary’s most renowned historians -- a gentleman who made possible our college’s future – and left many meaningful chronicles of its past,” Sullivan said.
The Tyler family’s affiliation with William and Mary began in 1704 when the grandfather of U.S. President John Tyler, also named John Tyler, attended the college. His son, the governor of Virginia from 1808 to 1811, and his grandson, the U.S. President, also studied at William and Mary. Harrison Tyler’s father, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, earned degrees from the University of Virginia but was awarded an honorary degree from William and Mary at the end of his 31-year term as the college’s president. In all, about 30 members of the Tyler family, including Harrison Tyler, have attended William and Mary.
Harrison Tyler received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the college in 1949 and also earned a degree in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech. He was the co-founder of ChemTreat, Inc., an industrial water treatment company based in Richmond. The company was sold to its 400 worldwide employees in 2000. Harrison Tyler and his wife, Francis Payne Bouknight Tyler, own Sherwood Forest, the Charles City County home of President John Tyler.
Harrison Tyler and his wife have previously established other endowments in honor of Lyon Gardiner Tyler, and have provided support for the college’s archaeology center. The history department is the first at William and Mary to have the distinction of being named for an individual. A noted scholar of Virginia history, Lyon Gardiner Tyler also founded the William and Mary Quarterly.
“History was always my father’s favorite love,” Harrison Tyler said. “He would be very pleased to know that the Tyler family is honoring his memory by securing the continued excellence of William and Mary’s history department.”
Situated next to James Blair Hall, the garden will allow future generations of William and Mary students to remember Lyon Gardiner Tyler and learn about the deep connection the entire Tyler family has to the history of the college. The garden was designed by architects Douglas Aurland and John Hopke. The three bronze busts sit on granite pedestals and were designed by Richmond-based sculptor Richard Stravitz, who worked on the project for more than a year.
“It’s a very time consuming process but a very rewarding one as well,” said Stravitz, whose previous work includes a bust of James Farmer, a noted Civil Rights leader of the 1960s, for Mary Washington College. “I started with researching the three Tylers to determine the garments each person would be wearing. The project really clicked when I was able to bring emotion to the faces and the sculptures came to life. I was honored to be asked to work on a project that is such an important piece to the history of the College of William and Mary.”