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In 1968 when the Governor’s Residence was completed, the lawns on the three acre property were sparsely landscaped. During the next several years the elm trees, which once lined Front Street, were decimated by Dutch elm disease. In 1972, the floods that followed Hurricane Agnes swept away most of the plantings and those that remained were weakened and suffered severe winter damage. Following the flood, the landscaping was neglected as restoration of the residence began. With no trees or shrubbery in the front of the property, the governor and his family had no privacy to enjoy the outdoors. 

Seven years after the devastating flood, Governor Richard Thornburgh and his wife Ginny, moved into the Residence. Mrs. Thornburgh spearheaded the restoration of the Residence grounds. Under her leadership, a committee of individuals who were knowledgeable in horticulture and landscape design was established.

Known as the “Committee for the Governor's Gardens,” the group strived to achieve horticultural integrity while creating a beautiful atmosphere for visitors to enjoy and appreciate. The committee raised private funds to hire a professional landscape architectural firm, Seay and Ridenour, Inc., of Pittsburgh, to design a comprehensive master plan for the gardens. No public funding was used for these renovations.

In 1998, the Governor's Residence Preservation Committee, led by former First Lady Michele Ridge, embarked on a historic public-private partnership with the Department of General Services and the Pennsylvania Heritage Society to renovate both the interior of the Governor's Residence and its gardens.

Through this public-private partnership, more than $1.1 million was raised to enhance and preserve the interior and exterior of the Governor's Residence. The Richard C. von Hess Foundation contributed over $765,000 for the completion of the garden and interior renovation.

On June 2, 2002, Governor Mark Schweiker and First Lady Kathy Schweiker joined former Governor Tom Ridge and First Lady Michele Ridge to dedicate the Richard C. von Hess Gardens. The gardens include three of the Residences' landscaped areas: the Susquehanna Gardens, Penn's Woods and the West Lawn.

In addition to the renovations to the Richard C. von Hess Gardens, two brick pavilions and connecting pergola, which complement the architectural style of the Governor's Residence, were added to the existing Jane Shafer Rose Garden.