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Department of Environmental Studies



Charles Hosmer MorseCharles Hosmer Morse

Charles Hosmer Morse was a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist. He first visited Winter Park in the early 1880s and was enamored by its natural beauty. He purchased property on Lake Osceola and soon became involved in the development of the city of Winter Park. By 1904, he had become the largest landowner in the area. His land donations to the city, many of them made anonymously, are sites of such prominent city facilities as City Hall, the Woman’s Club, the municipal golf course and Central Park.

By 1915, Charles Hosmer Morse had retired to Winter Park permanently. In 1920, just one year before he passed away, he acquired land situated between lakes Virginia, Berry and Mizell. On this site, he planted citrus groves and carved a scenic road that would later become a local attraction: Winter Park’s treasured Genius Drive. 

Jeannette Genius McKean

Jeannette Genius McKean is the granddaughter of Charles Hosmer Morse. She was born in 1909 into an atmosphere of refined tastes and talents. Both the Morse and Genius families were collectors of fine art. Jeannette’s mother, Elizabeth Morse Genius, loved to paint, and passed this artistic bent onto her daughter. In college, Jeannette studied art and interior design. She had an affinity for designing “vignettes,” or themed rooms. As well, she was an acclaimed painter, heavily influenced by the natural world.

Jeannette and Hugh McKean

In 1936, Jeannette’s parents, Elizabeth Morse and Richard Genius, built a Spanish renaissance-style home on Lake Virginia in Winter Park across from Rollins College. Eventually, Jeannette and her husband, Dr. Hugh McKean, inherited Wind Song and the surrounding land. Here, they created an oasis where natural beauty flourished.

Hugh McKean

Hugh McKean was still an undergraduate at Rollins College when he met his future wife, Jeannette Genius. Like Jeannette, Hugh McKean was also an artist; for nearly 70 years, he painted the cultural and natural aesthetic of central Florida. His early paintings won him an invitation to study with a group in the home of Louis Comfort Tiffany. He returned to Orlando as an artist, an art journalist and professor of art at Rollins. He became the director of the Morse Gallery of Art upon its opening in 1942. Hugh McKean and Jeannette Genius were married in 1945, and in 1952, he became President of Rollins.

Hugh’s most memorable contribution to the Wind Song estate is the introduction of the peacock. He became enamored with these ornate birds when he first encountered them on a trip to Asia. Upon return to the U.S., he imported several to reside on their estate. This tradition continues today.

Precedent (UWA)

The University of Wisconsin Arboretum — Inspiration for Ecological Restoration

In 1934, at the dedication of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum (UWA), Aldo Leopold presented a “new and different idea” for an arboretum, a “land laboratory” devoted to ecological restoration. The UWA would be transformed into “a sample of original Wisconsin... a starting point in the long and laborious job of building a civilized landscape.”

Joining the pioneer ecologist on stage was John Nolen. In 1911, he authored Wisconsin’s first city plan, which included a recommendation for an arboretum “on the border of [Madison’s] open country, farmland and forest.” The venerable civic reformer had returned to receive an honorary degree and, in his acceptance speech, Nolen seconded Leopold: the nation needed a laboratory for conducting experiments “to repair the physical, biological and aesthetic wastes since... our stern Puritan forbearers subdued nature to their needs for liberty.”

Leopold and Nolen spent their careers redefining American ideals to procure a “civilized landscape.” They understood the foibles of the human species, but they believed, like Jefferson, that “the laws of nature” provided an ethical guide for creating a healthier, more admirable civilization. Educators as well as professionals, they sought to embellish the landscape with, Leopold wrote, “lifelong opportunities for study and even experimentation.”

Their influence would reach Rollins, helping advance what Hamilton Holt called, in a 1932 letter to Nolen, “our adventure in common sense education.” In 1931, the college hosted The Curriculum for the Liberal Arts College Conference, and Holt valued the input of Nolen, a Harvard instructor. Following Holt’s cue and Nolen’s sagacity, Rollins joined with the Elizabeth Morse-Genius Foundation to transform the Genius Preserve into a “living laboratory" with UWA as the model. This “adventure in common sense education” is chronicled in “Ecological Restoration: Cultivating a "Civilized Landscape" in the Liberal Arts,” which appeared in the December 2006 issue of Ecological Restoration, published by the University of Wisconsin Press.