He “Spoke for the Trees” of Davenport

What better way to celebrate Earth Day 2021 and the flowering of spring than to feature this charming addition to our collection, the “Therapeutic Chart for Street Trees,” by Philip Hunter Tunnicliff.

According to the author’s foreword, the chart was created in September 1941 for “the Davenport Park Board in its civic ministry of street trees” but especially for “the pure joy of doing.” It is a guide to the diseases and pests commonly suffered by trees in the city and environs, along with descriptions of the recommended treatments for each. An index, organized by genus, then the scientific name of the affliction, provides the reader with the disease’s common name and directs them to a square in one of four (and a half) pages of hand-colored illustrations.

Tunnicliff concludes his work with this amusing drawing, featuring his guiding philosophy in the care of trees: “An ounce of anticipation is worth a pound of realization” (a paraphrase of Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”).

The 25-year-old dedicated his work to his superior, W. H. Romine, the Davenport Park Board Commission Superintendent. A 1935 graduate of Moline High School, Tunnicliff studied landscape design at Cornell College and Iowa State College before beginning work as a landscape designer for the City.

This list of trees looks to be about the same vintage — and is presented with the same sense of humor. Tunnicliff described the trees as if people, with Christian names and nicknames, and noted: “After barely surviving the rigors of winter, one can scarcely blame them for leaving in the spring, and after facing the scalding sun all summer, it is no wonder that in the fall they begin to turn.” These “citizens” also had occupations: “one was a holder of banks, another stored waters, and still others manufactured medicines, dyes, and paper, or reclaimed land.”

Tunnicliff was employed by the City of Davenport for just under two years; in the spring of 1942, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served for four years, designing and planting “headquarters, stables and military prison areas,” and achieving the rank of lieutenant. (“Philip H. Tunnicliff, Landscape Designer, Begins Practice Here.” Daily Times, Davenport, Iowa, 11 Mar 1947)

After the war, Tunnicliff returned to Davenport and in March 1947 started a landscape design practice. These advertisements are from the 18 Jul 1948 Democrat and Leader and the 14 Jun 1949 Daily Times:

These are drawings for some of Tunnicliff’s earliest jobs, as reproduced in his Tunnicliff Tales: A History of the Tunnicliff Family and its Midwest Environs (Davenport, Iowa: P. Tunnicliff, 1981), Call No. SC 929.2 Tun:

Tunnicliff Tales also includes drawings he made during his service as a Captain in the Korean War. From the early 1950s until his death in 1984, Philip H. Tunnicliff was the owner and president of Tunnicliff Surveyors & Engineers, with offices in the Putnam Building. In our collection of historical City of Davenport materials, we also have blueprints for the work the firm did for the Levee Commission in the 1960s. Yet we cannot claim to have any work of Tunnicliff’s more delightful than the “Therapeutic Chart for Street Trees!”

(posted by Katie)

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One Response to He “Spoke for the Trees” of Davenport

  1. Anna says:

    Philip H. Tunnicliff was my grandfather. I sadly never got to meet him, so reading this was a true delight! Thank you!

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