2021 Marks the 100th anniversary of Charles Owen Dexter purchasing the land now know as Heritage Museum & Gardens.
Mr. Dexter was a successful textile manufacturer in New Bedford. With his uncle and cousin, he established the Beacon Manufacturing Company which became one of the largest manufacturers of cotton blankets in the United States. At the age of 59, Mr. Dexter was told that he wouldn’t have long to live which led him to purchase Shawme Farm. However, despite the warning, he lived for another 22 years. For the next 15 years he worked in his garden hybridizing plants.
That purchase, and the work Dexter did over the subsequent years, changed the world of rhododendrons in the U.S. forever. Before Dexter became enamored with the genus rhododendron, the plants in New England were generally not very hardy and not particularly showy. All that changed, thanks to Charles Dexter.
Heritage has approximately 160 named varieties of Dexter and Cowles rhododendrons and many more unnamed varieties.
During his lifetime, Dexter bred, grew and either planted-out or gave away tens of thousands of plants. Many ended up at friends or relatives’ homes scattered from New England to South Carolina. Heritage is currently in the process of identifying and repatriating many Dexter cultivars to establish a comprehensive collection of Dexter’s work.