Davenporters of Note: Leonidas W. Ramsey

Davenport residents have long been passionate about gardening. In June of 1913, nearly 400 people were hard at work preparing their properties for the first of the Rotary Club of Davenport’s “City Beautiful” contests. This dedication to beautification attracted young landscape architect Leonidas Willing Ramsey to Davenport. He and his partner, H. T. Reeves, after investigating twenty U.S. cities, “…decided that opportunities in their line were better here than elsewhere.” The pair opened their practice in the Putnam Building the following year. [The Daily Times, July 6, 1914, page 7]

Davenport Democrat and Leader, April 16, 1916

Ramsey had recently graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he studied under the first-ever Professor for Civic Design, the noted urban planner Charles Mulford Robinson. Born May 22, 1891, in Hazelhurst, Mississippi to Jacob Leonidas and Carrie Willing Ramsey, his early education included the Marion Institute and Millsaps College.

Interrupted briefly by his service (Navy ensign, late 1918-1919) in the First World War, “Buck” Ramsey’s career as a landscape architect was an active one. In 1914, the Reeves & Ramsey firm designed the waterfront park between Main and Scott Streets for the Levee Commission; Ramsey then wrote up the project for American City magazine with the title “The Improvement of the Davenport River-Front.”

His design for the grounds of the Mississippi Valley Fair and Exposition garnered praise from landscape experts, whose “universal verdict,” according to the Democrat and Leader of August 1920, was that it was “the best planned and best laid out fairgrounds in the entire West.” American City magazine again published Ramsey’s article about this project, “A New Era for the District and County Fair” in May of 1920.

Ramsey was a regular contributor to House Beautiful, House and Garden, Garden Magazine, The American Home, The Ladies Home Journal, and other popular periodicals of the time; he also served as the Landscape Editor for the Democrat and Leader newspaper, 1915- 1916.

Ramsey spoke frequently on the City Beautiful Movement, landscape gardening, and city planning topics to popular and university audiences all over the Midwest, as well as to local organizations and clubs. The Davenport and Rock Island Rotary Clubs, the Woman’s Clubs in both cities, and the Tri-City Garden Club invited him often.

Some of Ramsey’s other clients included Augustana College, the City of Ottumwa, and many private residences in Illinois and Iowa. In 1923, Ramsey and his associate Charles Lawrence did gratis work for the Lend-A-Hand Club.

In early 1921, Ramsey founded the Garden Press in Davenport “for the purpose of printing and distributing literature pertaining to gardening and landscape architecture.” [Democrat 7 Jan 1921] The RSSC Center has recently acquired The Landscape Garden Series, a boxed set of ten illustrated booklets issued by the Garden Press that same year. Ramsey authored four of these: “Planning the Home Grounds,” “Architectural Features,” “Beauty in the Vegetable Garden,” and “The Home and the City.”

The Garden Press soon grew into the L. W. Ramsey Co., a tremendously successful advertising agency with offices in Chicago and Hollywood, CA. Ramsey remained devoted to Davenport, however; the main office stayed here in the Union Bank building.

The busy advertising executive did not abandon his love for landscape architecture, either. He continued to write on the subject, publishing first Landscaping the Home Grounds (SC 712 Ram 1930) in 1930.

This was a re-working of many of the ideas first explored in the the Landscape Series of 1921. A photograph of J.J. Reimer’s Oak Knoll garden, and that of another McClellan Heights property are included.

The Outdoor Living Room (SC 712 Ram 1932), also published by MacMillan, was co-authored by Ramsey and fellow Davenport landscape architect Charles H. Lawrence.

Missing from the library’s collection of Ramsey’s works is Garden Pools, Large & Small (MacMillan, 1931), another collaboration with Lawrence. We hope to acquire a copy of it soon!

Ramsey’s most popular book was an account of his travels to Mexico with pal and illustrator J. Anthony Kelly, Time Out for Adventure: Let’s Go to Mexico (Doubleday, 1934)

Ramsey was very civic-minded. In addition to the Rotary Club and other business groups in Davenport, he was a Trustee of the Library and the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery. He also served on the Park Board.

Buck Ramsey lived at 834 Marquette Street in Davenport with his wife Norma (Klindt) and children Leonidas Willing Jr., George Klindt, and Julianne. He passed away in 1947 and was buried in Oakdale Cemetery.

(posted by Katie)

“L.W. Ramsey, Head of National Advertising Agency, is Dead at 55.” Davenport Democrat and Leader, January 2, 1947.

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2 Responses to Davenporters of Note: Leonidas W. Ramsey

  1. Jake says:

    What a great story. I grew up in this agency as a young boy. I used to spend many hours digging through boxes of archives and learning about who L.W. was. Many facts remain private about him but I am happy to share the vast history that I know about Leo and his agency.

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