Chicago Botanic Garden visitors know that the Garden celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. In looking back over the Garden’s growth since 1972, Garden staff, members, and visitors appreciated the remarkable changes that had taken place. The 40th anniversary website includes a timeline of significant events, historical photos, and opportunities for community members to share their experiences at the Garden.
Fewer Garden visitors are aware of the early years of the Chicago Horticultural Society, which dates back to 1890. At a free talk about The Garden Turns 40: Documenting our Past, Planning for the Future exhibition last week, I shared some of this history with those who attended.
In 1890, the goal of the Horticultural Society of Chicago was “the encouragement and promotion of the practice of horticulture in all its branches and the fostering of an increased love of it among the people.” This is in perfect alignment with the City of Chicago’s motto of Urbs in Horto (Latin for city in a garden). The Society shared this message through flower shows. Currently on exhibition in the Lenhardt Library are a poster from a 1900 flower show and a pamphlet from the 1914 flower show. Seeing the original, primary source documents from the Garden’s early history is inspiring.
Also on display as a part of the Garden Turns 40 exhibition is an original record book from 1890–1904. It includes all types of documents including board minutes (many of which were hand scribed), by-laws, financial records, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, meeting notifications, and other materials that were of interest to Society members. This is the only original document from the early period in the archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society.
The record book is open to the first page, which has a list of officers. You can see some names crossed off and others added. This is because it was a working document. As board members changed each year, the names were updated on the list. One civic leader who was involved with the Horticultural Society of Chicago and listed as an officer is Andrew McNally (from the Rand McNally family of maps and atlases).
See these items and more at the Lenhardt Library. Feel free to ask library staff questions. If you have any family stories about how this Garden got started please share them with us; we’d love to hear from you.