Alger Munt: Cranbrook’s English Gardener

When sifting through images to post on the Center’s Facebook page, I often come across an image of someone and wonder, “How did this person end up at Cranbrook?” This week, that “someone” is Alger Munt.

Alger Munt working in the greenhouse at Cranbrook, October 1950.

Alger Munt working in the greenhouse at Cranbrook, October 1950. Photo by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Algernon George Munt (“Alger”) was born in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England in 1894. From the age of 14, he worked as a gardener on estates near his hometown. When he was 18, he started work manufacturing straw hats in one of the area factories. Soon, his country called and he joined the army, serving in the Royal Field Artillery during World War I. After the war, he did not return to the factory but resumed gardening instead.

Munt came to America in 1921 to work for his uncle William Munt in St. Clair, Michigan, in the commercial greenhouse business. He would work for his uncle for eight years. In 1926, Munt briefly returned to England to marry Grace Barker Skinner (1898-1981) of Ware, Southampton, Hampshire, England.

Munt soon tired of the greenhouse business and came to the Birmingham-Bloomfield area to become a gardener on a private estate. Based on census information and Munt’s oral history account in Cranbrook Archives, the “private estate” was Strandcrest, the estate of lumberman Carl A. Strand, which boasted 14.3 acres, fruit trees, and a caretaker’s residence.

It was in 1936 that Munt came to work at Cranbrook. He was a gardener at Cranbrook from 1936 to 1941. From October 1941 to December 1942, Munt worked at Spindletop Hall in Lexington, Kentucky.

George G. Booth had told Munt in 1941 that he didn’t want him to go but that anytime he wanted to make a change—if things did not work out in Kentucky—get in contact with him. When Spindletop Hall had to switch to economy/war-mode in 1942, Munt took Mr. Booth up on his offer and returned to Cranbrook as a gardener and part-time chauffeur. His wife Grace worked as a laundress for the Booths.

Alger and Grace Munt

Alger and Grace Munt, circa 1965. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

By the 1950s, Munt was the Superintendent of the Greenhouse and Grounds at Cranbrook, and his wife was working as a maid in the dormitories at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Twin Cottage on the estate

The Munts lived in Twin Cottage on the estate, pictured here in 1957, when they returned to Cranbrook in 1942 until their retirement in 1966. Photo by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Munts retired from Cranbrook in August 1966 and they moved back to England, intending to settle in Cornwall. Unfortunately, Munt died suddenly in November 1966, just short of his 72nd birthday.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

 

5 thoughts on “Alger Munt: Cranbrook’s English Gardener

  1. Leslie (Mio),

    I was surprised to read about the gardener, Algernon Munt. I have lived right across the street from Strandcrest for 45 years. It was one of the first Bloomfield area historic houses on which I did research. (I see that in the CKS blog you provide a link to a piece of my work found in the History Next Door collection on the BHS website.) I am glad you found it. I have a number of picture od the Strandcrest property from the 1930s. The were given to me to copy 20 years ago, or more, by Helen (Strand) Kaiser, daughter of Carl Strand.

    I have attached three of these images for your information. One, I believe is the gardener’s house where Algernon and Grace Munt lived while he was employed by Mr. Strand. It was demolished when William Pulte developed the Nantucket Green Subdivision in 1965 in which Strandcrest is still located (911 S. Shady Hollow Cir.). The other is a copy of a page from the 1928 Annual Report of the Road Commission of Oakland County. I have also attached a current photo of the house.

    n another subject there was a CKS article on 12 Nov. 2015 on John H. Buckberrough, Civil Engineer for Cranbrook 1927 – 1955. He lived on Adams Rd. three houses south of Strandcrest. It was demolished in December 2013. I have attached one of the photos I took shortly before it was torn down.

    I enjoy Cranbrook Kitchen Sink.

    John

    John F. Marshall (248)376-2745 jnmarshall@comcast.net

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Leslie (Mio),

    Al Munt was my mentor for a year before he retired. He was a wonderful man.

    They were some pretty big boots to fill, 38 years later I retired myself.

    I still mow in the sunken garden once a week and always think about Al when

    we planted tulips there. 6000 of them with a generator and drill, making the holes.

    Thank you for the article and sharing some nice memories.

    Liked by 1 person

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