The Tree House
Dr. Church, along with his architect son Willis Humphrey Church, designed and built the Tree House, a Lake Tahoe retreat meant as a viewing platform for nature. He compared the Tree House to the Nevada Art Gallery, which he co-founded: the Nevada Art Gallery would afford beauty made by man, while the Tree House would provide the beauty of nature. Dr. Church insisted that the Tree House be always open to the public and termed the building “an effort to humanize beauty” (Borghi, 1943), showing that he continually sought to bring nature and man together.
A physical legacy
Ultimately, Dr. Church would have two edifices named after him: one of man, and one of nature. His ashes and those of his wife, Florence Humphrey Church (1869-1922), rest in the cornerstone of the Church Fine Arts Building, a fitting tribute to a man who spent much of his life devoted to teaching the fine arts. Also bearing his name is Church Peak on Mount Rose, the site of his Mount Rose Observatory, established in 1905. In addition, his Nevada Art Gallery lives on as the Nevada Museum of Art, maintaining its focus on how Nevadans interact with their natural environment.
Church Fine Arts Building, 2005
Meteorograph shelters and precipitation tank, 1907
"A quiet, studious man"
And what of the man himself? Did he reach his personal ideals? Once hearing the description of Mr. March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women read aloud, he found it so compelling that he wrote, “I must engrave the whole passage and place it on my desk. I would live into its likeness.” And live into its likeness he did: “a quiet, studious man, rich in wisdom that is better than learning, the charity that calls all mankind ‘brother’” (Greenland expedition diaries, vol. 3, p. 18-19). These attributes drove his work and formed his legacy. Later, in Europe, he wrote in frustration upon being told that when he died, his efforts would die with him: “What is to come? A collapsed shell and a proud but futile memory? Is that life? I want to build principles and institutions. Things so vital that they must live” (European diary 4, p. 91). Dr. Church was that rarest of men: he had a vision for the betterment of the world, he realized his vision in life, and the principles and institutions that he built carry on.