Located in the southwest corner of Wilder Park, the Wilder Park Conservatory is home to a wide variety of plants. In addition, youth education programs are offerered with our in-house horitculturist. For 83 years the Conservatory has served as a visual and verifiable link to our past, taking on an iconic and symbolic place in the history of Elmhurst and the hearts and minds of its residents. The Conservatory logs approximately 13,000 visits annually and is a memorable place for the marking of life events such as weddings, proms, graduations, and holidays. The staff often sees multiple generations visiting the Conservatory, instilling a love of nature and reminiscing about past experiences. Built in 1923, the Wilder Park Conservatory was the very first Elmhurst Park District capital project and serves as a symbol of the longtime commitment of the community to horticultural programs.
Upcoming Flower Shows
- Spring Flower Show: March 19-April 3
- Seasonal Display: Mother's Day-Memorial Day
Wilder Park Conservatory Restoration Project
The beloved Wilder Park Conservatory recently underwent a major restoration, made possible by a $1.84 million state grant, which demonstrates the continued commitment of the community and the District to this special historic place. The project has allowed for improved green technologies and energy efficiencies with the installation of new HVAC components, glazing system and the use of modern materials reducing energy loss and improving growing space. The horticulture operation provides community beautification and educational programs for adults and youth and is a regional resource for the study of plants and ecosystems, making it a popular destination for school groups. The Conservatory will host three shows in 2015 beginning with the Spring Flower Show at the end of March followed by two seasonal flower shows.
Since 1993, native plants have been raised in the greenhouses for transplanting to natural areas. The number of prairie grasses, forbs, and woodland flowers raised in the greenhouses has grown from 500 to nearly 12,000 each year.
In addition, liner trees and shrubs are purchased as seedlings and developed, most of which are then planted into the “field” from five-gallon containers. This process is rooted in the belief that by using some of the reclaimed non-native soils, these younger plants will transplant and adapt more readily, which is supported by the over 80% survival rate of these trees and shrubs.
Wilder Park Conservatory History
A historic tradition lives on at the Elmhurst Park District Conservatory and greenhouses, located in Wilder Park. These buildings are informally dedicated to the memory of some of Elmhurst's first families who at one time resided in nearby Wilder Mansion.
In 1868, Seth Wadhams (founder of the Knickerbocker Ice Company in Chicago) purchased a treeless farm called the "Burnhams Lot" and built a home, calling it "White Birch." He surrounded his new home with as many species of trees as were able to survive in the climate. He also hired a landscaper, gardener and herdsman to care for the property.
In addition to the home, Wadhams built a greenhouse for his wife to help her to overcome her grief over the death of their son. This greenhouse, still in use today, is located to the rear of the Conservatory and is the forerunner of the extensive horticultural activities which are currently taking place in Wilder Park.
Following the death of Seth Wadhams in 1888, Mrs. Henry (Aurelia Case) King, daughter of Seth's lifelong friend John R. Case, inherited the home. After the Kings moved into the White Birch Estate, King employed a landscape architect to landscape the area surrounding the home.
Aurelia Case King continued the tradition of her predecessor, becoming interested in gardening and establishing a library on the subject. She created an herb garden, based upon the descriptions of Erasmus, a Dutch humanist; and a flower garden, modeled after the one at Mount Vernon, Virginia. In 1890, Aurelia and Henry's son, Francis, married Louisa Yeoman. After the death of Henry King in 1898, the Francis Kings moved into the home of his mother. During this time, Louisa became interested in the gardens of her mother-in-law. However, it was not until Louisa moved into the McCormick home (1898) at Claremont and Prospect Avenues that she established her first garden. This began her lifelong avocation with gardening and horticulture. Her contributions include several books on these subjects. She dedicated her last book, "From A New Garden," to her mother-in-law. Louisa received many awards and honors, including a memorial planting of dogwood in the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. and a rose named in her honor.
After the death of Mrs. King in 1901, the estate was sold to Mrs. Henry Gorden Selfridge, and later was purchased in 1905 by Thomas E. Wilder. Wilder renamed the estate "Lancaster Lodge," after his original home in Lancaster, Massachusetts.
Before his death in 1919, Mr. Wilder offered the northern six acres of the estate to the City of Elmhurst, with the stipulation that a library be built within five years. Unable to fulfill its commitment, the City called a meeting of the Park District Board and the Library Board. An agreement was reached whereby the Park Board would purchase the southern six acres for $45,000.
Upon completion of the purchase, the City would cede the northern six acres to the Park District. The City would then purchase the Wilder home and one acre surrounding it for $14,000 and cede that to the Library Board for the establishment of a library. Upon completion of these transactions, the Wilder estate became Wilder Park, containing the original greenhouse on the southern six acres.
In 1923, the Elmhurst Park District Board added a conservatory to the original Wadhams greenhouse. The conservatory was erected by the American Greenhouse Manufacturing Company for a cost of $6,950. In 1926, a second greenhouse was built by the Foley Greenhouse Manufacturing Company for a cost of $2,350. In subsequent years, the Park District added a storage area and a third growing house.
Today the conservatory, greenhouses and the Wilder Park gardens continue to provide beauty and serve the varied interests of Elmhurst residents.