Joseph Lapsley Wilson Correspondence

A Guide

The Barnes Foundation Archives

300 North Latch's Lane
Merion, PA, 19066
Telephone: (215) 278-7280

Funding provided by the
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

© 2008 The Barnes Foundation

Collection Summary

Repository: The Barnes Foundation
Creator: Joseph Lapsley Wilson
Title: Joseph Lapsley Wilson Correspondence
Dates: 1922-1926
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
Abstract: These records include correspondence between Joseph Lapsley Wilson, Director of the Barnes Foundation Arboretum, and horticulturists and nurseries, primarily documenting the purchase of plant specimens for the Barnes Foundation in the 1920s.
Code: JLW
Language: The correspondence in this collection is in English.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Description of item], [date]. Arboretum, Directors’ Files, Joseph Lapsley Wilson Correspondence. The Barnes Foundation Archives, Merion, Pennsylvania. Reprinted with permission.

Acquisition Information

These records were housed in filing cabinets in the Arboretum House of the Barnes Foundation prior to processing.

Processed By

Katy Rawdon. Finding aid written by Katy Rawdon, April 2008.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research to qualified researchers by appointment only. Please contact the Archives and Library Department for information on access and research.

Use Restrictions

The Joseph Lapsley Wilson Correspondence is the physical property of the Barnes Foundation Archives. The Foundation holds literary rights only for material created by staff of the Foundation and material given to the Foundation with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for determining the identity of rights holders and obtaining their permission for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Related Material

Joseph Lapsley Wilson Collection. First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Joseph Lapsley Wilson, d. 1928. Scrapbook, 1874-1881 (Collection 2082), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Trust estate-Joseph Lapsley Wilson (folder 156), Series VII, Financial Information 1909-1962. Starr Centre Association of Philadelphia Records, 1894-1973, MC 9. Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, School of Nursing – University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Biographical Note

Joseph Lapsley Wilson (1844-1928) was born in Philadelphia on September 17, 1844, a great-grandson of Dr. John Carson (1752-1894), an incorporator and original fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Wilson attended West Chester Academy (which later evolved into West Chester University) for five years, but was unable to attend a planned “college course” due to the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1862, Wilson entered the military and became a member of the C Company Gray Reserves, which served the Union army in Maryland and Pennsylvania, including seeing fire in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in July of 1863. By the time Wilson was discharged in 1867, he had risen to the rank of sergeant.

Wilson joined the Little Schuylkill Navigation Railroad and Coal Company as secretary in 1865, and continued to work for them for the following thirty-eight years.

In November 1868, Wilson was elected to the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, the oldest continuously active military unit in the country, currently part of the Army National Guard. Wilson served as Captain of the Troop from 1889-1894. He was a member of the Troop’s building committee from 1899-1901, during the period when the troop built its current Armory building on 23rd street in Philadelphia. He was also editor of the Troop’s published histories printed in 1875 and 1915.

Wilson was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Pennsylvania Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, the Union League of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Rose Tree Fox Hunting Club, a founding member of the Radnor Hunt Club, and an original subscriber to and first president of “The Rabbit” (a private men’s club in Philadelphia).

In 1880, Captain Wilson moved from Philadelphia to a property in Merion, just outside of the city, which he called “Red Slates.” He married Caroline Alice Yates, originally from Kentucky, in 1901. Wilson established an arboretum on the property, with over two hundred specimens of trees, a number of which are still extant.

Dr. Albert C. Barnes purchased Wilson's Merion property in 1922, for the purposes of erecting new buildings on the property for his recently chartered educational institution, the Barnes Foundation. The sale included the stipulation that a house would be constructed on one side of the property, which Wilson and his wife would be allowed to rent for the remainder of their lives. The road in front of that house, which currently houses the Foundation’s horticultural programs, was named Lapsley Lane after the Captain. Captain Wilson served on the Board of Trustees of the Barnes Foundation, and as its first Director of the Arboretum, until his death on April 12, 1928 at age eighty-three.

"Penn in the 18th Century: Dr. John Carson (1752-1894),"
Pennsylvania. National Guard. Troop of Philadelphia Cavalry, 1st. Book of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, 1774-1914. Philadelphia : Hallowell, 1915, pp. 281-282.
First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry web site:
Obituary: "Joseph L. Wilson." Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, April 12, 1928.
Yearbook of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Philadelphia: The Society, 1926.

Scope and Content

These records include correspondence between Joseph Lapsley Wilson, Director of the Barnes Foundation Arboretum, and various horticulturists, nurseries, and others, primarily documenting the purchase of plant specimens for the Barnes Foundation in the 1920s.

Of particular interest are several folders concerning the Foundation's Gordonia alatamaha (or Franklinia alatamaha, the Franklin Tree), including information about its purchase, history, and care.

There also exists a draft letter to Nelle McClury Ludwig containing information about the Lapsley family.

Subject Terms

Personal Names:

Barnes, Laura L., 1875-1966
Wilson, Joseph Lapsley


Barnes Foundation




Lower Merion (Pa. : Township)
Merion (Pa.)

Form and Genre Terms:



The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Series 1. Correspondence
Dates: 1922 - 1926
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
Arranged alphabetically by correspondent name.

Folder Title Date Extent Folder Notes
Andorra Nurseries 1922 2 Folder(s)
Bassett, George William 1925-1926 1 Folder(s)
Foster, Fanny 1925 1 Folder(s)
Garden Magazine & Home Builder 1924-1925 1 Folder(s) Includes a history of the Foundation's Gordonia tree.
Gest, John Marshall 1926 1 Folder(s)
Hunt, Benjamin W. 1925 1 Folder(s)
Lewis & Valentine Company 1922 1 Folder(s)
Ludwig, Nelle McClury 1925 1 Folder(s) Includes information about the Lapsley family.
Murray & Walsh 1923 1 Folder(s) Regarding the cutting down of twelve trees in the arboretum.
United States. Bureau of Plant Industry 1925 1 Folder(s)