Photos in order of appearance: Ninah Cummer, 1898; residence of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Cummer, c. 1958; Arthur Cummer, 1898 (all photos from the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens Archives).
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is the culmination of the civic, social, and business involvement of a remarkable family. The Cummers came from a long line of lumber barons, whose business interests began in Canada before branching out to Michigan, Virginia, and Florida. As early as 1890, Wellington Willson Cummer (1846-1909) recognized the value of Florida cypress and prolific stands of pine timberlands in the state. After relocating his family from Morley, Michigan, to Jacksonville, Florida, he went on to found the Cummer Lumber Company in 1896. Among his many feats, Wellington built a railroad for transporting lumber from the low country of Florida to Jacksonville, where the mills and distribution centers were located. His sons, Arthur Cummer and Waldo Cummer, along with his son-in-law, John L. Roe, all of whom came up through the ranks in the family business, assumed control of the company after Wellington’s death in 1909.
The elder of Wellington’s sons, Arthur Gerrish Cummer (1873-1943) attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While there he met Ninah May Holden (1875-1958), a bright and energetic young woman who hailed from Michigan City, Indiana. Ninah was one of the few women attending the University of Michigan where she studied languages. After graduation from the university in 1895, Ninah taught Greek and Latin at Michigan City High School. Following their marriage in 1897, the newlyweds joined Arthur’s parents, Wellington and Ada Gerrish Cummer (1853-1929), and brother Waldo Emerson Cummer (1875-1936) and his wife Clara Mullen Cook (1873-1958) in Jacksonville, by then the center of the family’s thriving lumber business.
In 1902, Mr. and Mrs. Cummer began constructing a large English Tudor Revival house, replete with exterior half-timbering and richly carved interior paneling. Situated on Riverside Avenue, the home was part of the close-knit family compound of three houses with adjacent gardens, and the construction of the Cummer house led to Mrs. Cummer’s masterminding of her gardens. The development of the gardens would remain her passion until the time of Mr. Cummer’s death, with her focus expanding to the establishment of city parks for public access to garden environments. Today, the Cummer Gardens are one of the most popular locations in the city and visitors delight in their beauty.