History of the Conservatory
In 1908 the historic W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory at Wright Park was opened through a generous gift from William W. Seymour, who was president of the Board of Park Commissioners from 1909 to 1911.
The conservatory that carries his name is one of only three public Victorian-style conservatories on the West Coast. Listed on the City of Tacoma, Washington State and National Historic registers, it was the tropical plants inside, however, that enthralled early Tacomans. The Conservatory's tropical plants and flowers gave many of the early residents their first chance to learn about such exotic and decidedly un-Northwest species. While out for Sunday carriage rides, Wright Park visitors would stop at the Conservatory to marvel at orchids, bird of paradise plants, crown of thorns and citrus trees.
Today, visitors experience the Conservatory's permanent collection of ferns, palms, figs, bromeliads, orchids and many other rare, unusual and endangered plants as well as changing floral exhibits.
WILLIAM WOLCOTT SEYMOUR
W. W. Seymour is an interesting figure in the early history of the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma. He is principally remembered for donating funds to build the Seymour Conservatory in Wright Park, but he also served as one of the Commissioners of the Metropolitan Park Board and was the President of Park Board from 1909 to 1911 before he resigned to fill the remaining term of A.V. Fawcett, the Mayor of Tacoma who had been recalled in a special election.
William Wolcott Seymour, a native of St. Albans, Vermont, was born in 1861. After graduating from Williams College in 1884, he spent 2 years of further study in Germany. Seymour arrived in Tacoma in 1890 and became associated with the investment-banking firm of Seymour, Barto and Co., which later became Seymour Bros. & Co. when his brother Edmund joined him in the business. His company ended up taking over the Tacoma Gas Company and W. W. Seymour became the President. He was involved in a number of local public utility companies as well timber sales. Seymour appears to have been very successful in his many business ventures.
A newspaper article from the Tacoma News Tribune at the time of his death in 1929 paints a picture of a man who was born into wealth but also made a considerable fortune through his own initiative. His political career seems to be limited to serving on the Metropolitan Park Board and the one partial term as mayor. Seymour embodies the ideals and civic mindedness of his time and must have believed in giving back to the community that he prospered in. His donation of $10,000 in 1906 to the city was "to be used as deemed most advisable in beautifying the city" according to an article in the Tacoma Daily Ledger on November 1, 1908. The money was turned over to the Park Board who voted that it be used for building a conservatory.
Seymour was noted for riding to work on a bicycle while he was Mayor, something the movers and shakers of Tacoma at the time just did not do. Former Mayor, Bill Baarsma, who has researched past mayors of Tacoma, thinks of Seymour as someone who would be most comfortable with our society today. In addition to the conservatory, Seymour also funded hospitals, nurses and doctors to work with the poor, and a YMCA summer camp that is now known as Camp Seymour.
In 1910 Mr. Seymour married for the first and only time. His wife, the former Emily Wells Risley, was from Connecticut. Mrs. Seymour appears to have had horticultural interests. Minutes from Metropolitan Park Board meetings in the early 1930's indicate that Mrs. Seymour was present on several occasions. A newspaper article from December 28, 1934 states that she was present at a meeting that dealt with funding for repair of the dome and she explained how her husband came to build the conservatory. There is also an undated handwritten note from Mrs. Seymour in Metro Park files (probably dating from the 1940s) stating that she was sending some cymbidiums to the conservatory from her winter home in Santa Barbara, California.
Today the Seymour Conservatory is a lasting monument to a man ahead of his times in many ways and perhaps his wife too, who had a passion for the conservatory built by her husband.