Share

Camphor, oil of spruce . . . .

and capsicum.  What in the world do they have to do with anything design related?  Hang on, let me introduce you to the players and see if I can take you on this ride in approximately 600 words.

1imagesThree years after the Civil War, a man named J.R. Watkins mixed up some natural ingredients to use for sore muscles; a recipe from his doctor.  He obviously thought it did the trick because he packaged it, called it Dr. Ward’s Liniment, and sold it from his buggy.   He eventually added many more products, building a successful business from it and becoming a very wealthy man in the process.  Skip ahead to 1904. 

In 1904 Grace Watkins marries a well-to-do man named E.L. King (J.R. Watkins and his wife have only one surviving child.  Her name is Grace).  Grace and E.L. eventually take ownership of the Watkins’ business in 1931 upon her father’s ( J.R.) death. 

I’m getting to the design part I promise . . . Prior to their ownership of the business, in 1911, Grace Watkins-King and E.L. King have plans drawn for a lavish summer home.  They call it Rockledge.  The architect they hired for this beautiful 10,000 square foot home was none other than George Washington Maher.   In true Prairie School manner, his design of the grand home included chairs, urns, clocks, silver service and even silverware . . .  all designed by Maher.   Often Prairie School architects (ever hear of Frank Lloyd Wright?) would incorporate the natural beauty of the surroundings and include it somewhere, somehow into the theme of the home, even in the furnishings.   One of the themes for Rockledge is a tiger lily.   These lilies must have been a part of the Minnesota landscape and therefore included in the details of several interior pieces.  I especially love the custom monogrammed, rockledge-1950tiger lily silverware!

But what caught my attention is the fact that Rockledge was not preserved and was actually razed in 1987.  Who would let such a thing happen?  As I took the time to dig deeper, I discovered that E. L. King Jr., aka Bud (Grace and E.L. King’s son), would not allow the home to be protected and preserved.  He wanted Rockledge to be torn down.  Hmmmm . . . as usual, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I had to find see if I could find out “why.”

Apparently Bud King took over the Watkins’ empire in 1949, but by that time sales had slowed tremendously.  So much so, that by the 1950’s Grace (Bud’s mom) and his sister Mariel, pushed for the sale of the company.   Bud did not want to comply so he blocked the sale.  Eventually, Bud King was maneuvered out of the president’s office by his family, and in 1964 the first non-family president was installed. I’m sure there was much grief between the family members at this point. 

Apparently Bud had not taken care of Rockledge.  I’m sure he had some fond memories of summers there at one time.  He inherited the home but didn’t live there year round.   I read a couple articles that stated the home was in such poor disrepair that by the time it was torn down there were holes in the walls large enough to walk thru.   He obviously didn’t care enough about the home to keep it maintained.   I hate for stories to end this way, not only for the house and the preservation of history, but for the family.  Sadly, there is no ‘liniment’ to fix that kind of a problem.  

When Grace and E.L. King decided to update Rockledge in the more lavish décor and era that followed, they put most of the interior furnishings that George Maher designed, into a barn.  Thank goodness many of those items were later found and salvaged; some of them being sold to private collectors and some winding up in museums. 

J.R. Watkins still manufactures the sore muscle liniment that it began with . . . made with camphor, oil of spruce and capsicum.   They have a long list of additional products to choose from as well.   I have several of them in my own laundry and medicine cabinets. 

You can find J.R. Watkins’ products in Target and Amazon, etc.,but before you go to Amazon, please take the time to look up some photos of Rockledge and its contents.  It was a beautiful summer home in true Maher, Prairie School design.


photo-150x150.jpgKimberly Pearson has always had a passion for retail and merchandising.  From studying retail merchandising as a young woman to practicing a more restrained version as a professional organizer then to home interiors and Redesign in 2005, it’s just a part of her make up.
Today, that passion has taken her to a personal shopping service provided solely to the design trade.  As a lifelong Phoenix resident she has a heart for local; primarily local vintage shops.  Kimberly works closely with her clients to provide top-notch customer service in their search for special pieces all while promoting a more convenient method to support the local community.  Kimberly Pearson if the founder of Brick & Mortar Vintage and can be reached at (602) 460-6277.  brickandmortarvintage.com

Leave a Comment