The late Mary Elizabeth Sharpe formerly of Providence, was an entrepreneur, author, environmentalist, philanthropist, and self-taught landscape architect, whose achievements in the field of landscape design were legendary. She was instrumental in the beautification of Brown University, assisted in the creation of the Japanese Gardens at Roger Williams Park, and spearheaded the renovation of India Point Park.
A native of Syracuse, New York, she helped support family by making and selling candy. She parlayed that into a career, staring her own business, “Mary Elizabeth Ltd of New York.” After opening tea rooms in Boston and New York, Mary worked for the U.S. Food Administration and joined the Red Cross during World War I.
Mary Elizabeth Evans married Henry Dexter Sharpe in 1920 and moved to Providence, the site of Brown & Sharpe, Henry Sharpe’s family manufacturing business. The move allowed Mary Elizabeth to pursue her love of gardening and soon she fell in love with Providence as well. After closing her business in the 1930s, she came involved with the cultural activities Providence had to offer. She was responsible for bringing the Community Concert Series to Providence and served on many arts councils and boards.
Mary Elizabeth’s presence is felt all over the Brown University campus. Her husband Henry served as chancellor of Brown from 1932 until 1952. Mary’s deep interest in French culture was reflected in the Sharpe family home, a French-style house at 84 Prospect Street named Rochambeau House. This building now houses Brown University’s romance language department. The 1950 Sharpe Refectory building was named in honor of Mary Elizabeth and Chancellor Henry D. Sharpe.
She was also very active in the Garden Club of America, serving as the volunteer University landscaper during the 1940’s. Mary Elizabeth Sharpe established an annual tree fund, leading to the planting of 3,000 new trees and an ongoing commitment from the city to maintain and expand its tree-planting initiatives. Additionally, Mary Elizabeth Sharpe undertook a project to beautify the Brown campus planting elms, evergreens, and flowering trees. For her efforts, she was awarded an honorary A.M. degree by Brown in 1950. She was also involved in many parks projects around Providence, including the development of India Point. In 1970, she pledged $153,000 to reclaim the dilapidated waterfront and convinced the mayor to match her funds to create a tree-lined park. India Point Park was dedicated in 1974 and included a promenade, boathouse, playgrounds, picnic areas, and bike paths.
Mary Elizabeth Sharpe continued to work to make Providence beautiful until just before her death in 1985, shortly after celebrating her 100th birthday. She was survived by her son, Henry Sharpe, Jr.