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Archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society: Finding Aid

Finding Aid

A finding aid is a tool librarians and researchers use to discover, or find, information about a collection of records. The document gives the materials context by including information about the collection, such as an administrative history; scope of the collection, including size, subjects, and media; organization and arrangement; and an inventory of the series and the folders. An inventory for the Archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society is not publicly available at this time. Librarians are available to assist with your research needs.

For more information about using archives and finding aids, see the Society of American Archivists' guide, Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research. See the appendix for an annotated sample finding aid.

Archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society

Housed in the Lenhardt Library, the Archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society holds approximately 250 linear feet of documents pertaining to the history of the Society and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Viewing of unrestricted archival material is by appointment only. Please call (847) 835-8201 or email for an appointment for archive-related questions.

Summary Information

Title:  Archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society

Repository:  Lenhardt Library, Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, Illinois

Repository ID:  US-iglcb

Creator:  Chicago Horticultural Society

Extent:  approximately 250 linear feet

Date:  1890-1904, 1943-present

  bulk 1972-present

Language:  English unless otherwise noted


The records of the Archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society include meeting minutes, agendas, reports, publications, maps, plans, news clippings, photographs, audio and video recordings, correspondence, and administrative files. Records span the years 1890-1904, 1943-present, bulk 1972-present.

Preferred Citation:

[item], folder, box, Archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society, Lenhardt Library, Chicago Botanic Garden

Administrative History

The Chicago Horticultural Society was incorporated on October 1, 1890 as the Horticultural Society of Chicago. Though its name changed a few times, the Society’s mission remained the same: “encouragement and promotion of the practice of Horticulture in all its branches and the fostering of an increased love of it among the people.” The Society hosted flower shows, garden tours, and classes. Society members supported the Plan of Chicago and were involved in the creation and early management of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

With the First World War looming on the horizon and despite the abundance of activity or perhaps in part because of it, the Society saw a decline in momentum in 1912 and it appears that the Chicago Horticultural Society was on hiatus until 1945. It was the Victory Gardens of the Second World War that brought the Society back to life with a need for education. Reestablishing itself as the Chicago Horticultural Society and Garden Center, its objectives expanded to specifically include conservation, children’s education, and gardening as community building. The Society began publishing hands-on information and growing tips in their first bulletin and predecessor to Keep Growing, Garden Talks, beginning in 1945, and then continuing from 1953 and released every other month. In 1951, the Woman's Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society established a lending library. Located at the Society's Garden Center downtown location, by 1959 the library contained 584 volumes.

However, the Society as a whole still did not have a “proper”, more permanent home, an idea that just never seemed to come to fruition but also never let go even in the earliest days of the Society. It took nearly 80 years to get all the pieces in place. The Skokie Marsh was not the first location considered by the Society—Union Park, Palos, and Grant Park were considered. However, the Society had a hand in the preservation of the Skokie Lagoons from the beginning.

The Skokie Marsh, present day Skokie Lagoons, was one of the sites named in a 1904 Special Park Commission report to preserve natural areas for future generations. The Marsh was acquired by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC) in the 1920s and work by the Civilian Conservation Corps began in 1933 to improve issues with flooding by creating a lagoon system. The area became a popular outdoor recreation space where people flocked to hike, bird-watch, sail boats, ride horses, and fish the stocked lakes.

It was not until 1962 that Skokie Marsh was identified as a “prime potential site”. The proposal, “Chicago Needs a Botanic Garden” listed the following qualities in support of the Skokie Marsh location: the size of the area, ease of access from Chicago and surrounding areas, protection granted by the expressway to the west and lagoons to the south, filling the cultural void of museums or attractions to the north, future membership growth, and its natural beauty. In June 1963, House Bill No. 1487 passed to allow FPDCC to “prepare and maintain grounds for a botanic garden.” The bill was approved by Governor Otto Kerner in August. The land was to be maintained by the Society and owned by the Forest Preserve. In order to demonstrate support for the project, the Forest Preserve District stipulated that “By January 1, 1966 the Society shall have raised $1,000,000 by private subscriptions.” This was achieved by November 1964 and the contract signed on January 27, 1965.

The Pittsburgh-based landscape architecture firm of Simonds and Simonds was commissioned to create the master plan for the site. Over the years, the ever evolving master plan of the garden has consistently featured the interplay of water and land. After months of soil preparation, ground was broken at the garden on September 25, 1965. By 1967 the garden accessioned its first tree — a white fir. The rough grading and water control structures were in place by the end of 1968. And in 1969, clean water filled the lakes, perimeter fencing was installed, and the entrance road and parking were approved by state and county. The Society held an open house on the site in October 1969 and the Midwest Bonsai Society hosted their first exhibition at the garden in 1971. The Chicago Botanic Garden, then known as the Botanic Garden of the Chicago Horticultural Society, officially opened in 1972. By 1976, the Society's then 6,000 volume library had a new home in the Chicago Botanic Garden's Education Center (now called the Regenstein Center). Today, the collections of the Lenhardt Library hold approximately 125,000 volumes including books, periodicals, rare books, special collections, videos, DVDs,  slides, nursery catalogs, and the archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society.

Since opening in 1972, the Garden's collections and programming have continued to grow. Today the Chicago Botanic Garden has one of the largest memberships of any U.S. botanic garden. People of all ages, interests, and abilities participate in programs, take classes, and stroll the grounds year-round. From nature preschool, to yoga, to graduate research, the garden has something for everyone.


More Information:

Scope & Contents

The records of the Archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society include meeting minutes, agendas, reports, publications (newsletters, brochures, pamphlets, articles), maps, plans, news clippings, photographs, audio and video recordings, correspondence, and administrative files. Records span the years 1890-1904, 1943-present. The vast majority of the collection consists of materials relating to the Chicago Botanic Garden (1972-present). Materials pertaining to the Chicago Horticultural Society are limited (1890-1904).


The records of the Archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society are arranged by subject and by year. The records are arranged into 9 series by subject. Series 0-1, 3-6, and 9-10 are arranged by subject and format. Series 2, original promotional materials created by the Communications Department, is arranged by year beginning with 2004. Series 7 & 8 have been intentionally left empty in anticipation of future growth.

  1. Board of Directors, Woman's Board
  2. Education, Library, Hort Therapy, Programs
  3. Communications Department Materials
  4. History
  5. Planning
  6. Administration
  7. Fund Raising
  1. Publications
  2. Maps, Plans, and Drawings

Administrative Information

Publication Information

Lenhardt Library, Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022

Conditions Governing Access

Viewing of unrestricted archival material is by appointment only. Please contact the Lenhardt Library before visiting to request access information and to ensure that the materials are available to the public. Please call (847) 835-8201 or email for an appointment.

Physical Access

Some originals not available due to fragility. Use digital copies available through the Illinois Digital Archives.

Existence and Location of Copies

A selection of the oldest content in the archives has been digitized for preservation and use. Content is uploaded to the Illinois Digital Archives and Explore Chicago Collections as it becomes available.

Related Archival Collections

Various Chicago institutions hold records pertaining to the Chicago Horticultural Society. The most notable are the Chicago Horticultural Society Records at the Chicago History Museum and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Records at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Other collections found through the Chicago Collections Consortium's Explore Chicago Collections portal may contain personal papers or records related to the Society.


A selection of recent books published by or with the Chicago Botanic Garden. These books contain accurate information about the Chicago Botanic Garden and photographs capturing the garden, its collections, and displays. 

Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Chicago Botanic Garden.
  • Chicago Horticultural Society.
  • Chicagoland Grows.
  • Civilian Conservation Corps (U.S.).
  • Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois (Ill.).

Geographic Name(s)

  • Illinois--Chicago.
  • Illinois--Glencoe.

Personal Name(s)

  • Barnes, Edward Larrabee, 1915-2004


  • Chicago Botanic Garden.
  • Chicago Botanic Garden--History.
  • Chicago Horticultural Society.
  • Chicago Horticultural Society--Archives.
  • County forests.
  • Forest reserves.
  • Horticulture--Illinois--Chicago--Societies, etc.
  • Natural areas.

Local Headings


  • Dwarf Conifer Garden.
  • Enabling Garden.
  • English Walled Garden.
  • Fruit & Vegetable Garden.
  • Garden Café.
  • Heritage Garden.
  • Japanese Garden.
  • McDonald Woods.
  • Plant Science Center.
  • Regenstein Center (formerly known as the Education Building).
  • Rose Garden.
  • Waterfall Garden.
  • Visitor Center (formerly known as the Gateway Center).


  • Camp CBG.
  • College First.
  • School of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
  • Science First.
  • Windy City Harvest.
  • Wonderland Express.


This guide provided by CBHL