Filed Under Museums

Cleveland Botanical Garden

Eleanor Squire's Gift

The Cleveland Botanical Garden, the first civic garden center in the country and now part of an expanded and renamed entity known as Holden Forests & Gardens, has a growing presence in University Circle.

The Garden’s origins date to 1916 when Eleanor Squire donated a large collection of horticultural books to the Garden Club of Cleveland. In 1930 members of the club—led by Mrs. Thomas P. Howell, Mrs. William G. Mather, Mrs. Charles A. Otis, Mrs. John Sherwin, Mrs. Walter C. White, and Mrs. Windsor T. White—remodeled an empty boathouse on the shore of Wade Lagoon to house their literature collection. They christened their new home and organization The Garden Center of Greater Cleveland, with a mission to “promote such knowledge and love of gardening as will result in a more beautiful community.” Seven years later the Center was incorporated as a non-profit organization, offering individual memberships, expanding its affiliations with other garden clubs and allying itself with the Garden Program of the Cleveland Public Schools. A renovation in 1939 tripled the building's size. During World War II, the Garden Center maintained victory gardens and delivered flowers to veterans at local hospitals and infirmaries.

In 1966, a new Garden Center facility was completed at 11030 East Boulevard, a quarter mile to the north of the old boathouse. The new site had, from 1889 to 1907, housed the Wade Park Zoo, Cleveland’s original zoo. That facility’s Monkey House stood where the Center’s herb garden is today and the Bear Pit was located alongside East Boulevard in what is now the Japanese Garden. Wade Hall (1886) had been the Zoo’s Deer Barn, one of the oldest zoo buildings in North America. In 1975 it was moved to the current Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Old Brooklyn. Remodeled as a Victorian-style ice cream parlor, the building now sits adjacent to Waterfowl Lake.

The 1966 move followed a half dozen years of disastrous springtime flooding. Water from heavy storms often surged down the hills from Cleveland Heights, inundating much of University Circle. The Garden Center's boathouse was badly damaged on several occasions, ultimately necessitating its demolition. A concurrent City initiative to install new sewers in the Heights and several massive “interceptors” at key locations near the Circle was launched concurrently to contain floodwaters.

The Garden Center changed its name to the Cleveland Botanical Garden in 1994. In 2003, the building was remodeled to dramatically expand its footprint. That effort resulted in expanded outdoor gardens, a parking garage underneath Wade Oval, a climate-controlled environment for the library’s rare-book collection and, most notably, the Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse—two giant “biodomes” featuring the flora of Madagascar's Spiny Desert and a simulated Costa Rican Cloud Forest. Within these massive terraria live more than 350 species of plants and 50 species of animals, including hundreds of butterflies.

In 2014, the Cleveland Botanical Garden joined forces with Holden Arboretum to become Holden Forests and Gardens, thus putting CBG on far firmer financial ground. Today, its patrons enjoy a unique all-season, indoor-outdoor experience: an extensive horticultural museum; special events such as Orchid Mania, Gourmets in the Garden and WinterShow; as well as ten acres of gardens, including the Herb Garden (1969), Rose Garden (1971), Reading Garden (1973), Japanese Garden (1975), Woodland Garden (1989) and Children’s Garden (1999). Cleveland Botanical Garden also supports community outreach, environmental research and urban-farming programs, and an applied research initiative focused on turning abandoned properties into green infrastructure.


A Quiet Retreat in a Bustling City Dr. John Grabowski describes the contrast between the Cleveland Botanical Garden and the surrounding area. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Becoming the Botanical Garden Bob Reeves of University Circle Inc. describes the transformation of the Cleveland Garden Center into the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection


Wade Park Lagoon Boathouse
Wade Park Lagoon Boathouse Once an abandoned building, the boathouse pictured on the left sat on the edge of Wade Park Lagoon. It became the location of the Garden Center on December 4, 1930. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Wade Park in 1898
Wade Park in 1898 Note 1) the specific location of attractions within the Wade Park Zoo and 2) that Doan Creek (now culverted) connects directly with Wade Park Lagoon. Source: Cleveland Historic Maps
Wade Park Lagoon, c., 1900
Wade Park Lagoon, c., 1900 Wade Park Lagoon's Centaur Fountain, inscribed with the name W. Morse, who oversaw the installation, depicts a bold and brave centaur who has been fatefully lured to a siren's rock by her sweet song. The fountain fell into disrepair and was removed in the late 1920s.
Botanical Gardens, 1959
Botanical Gardens, 1959 When the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland relocated in the mid 1960s, it took over the land that once housed the Wade Park Zoo. This particular corridor of the Center overlooks the original location of the bear pit. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Garden Fair, 1966
Garden Fair, 1966 Produce cultivated by students who took part in the Cleveland Public Schools Garden Program lined the tables ready to be judged for the first Garden Fair, held on September 17, 1966. Governor James A. Rhodes opened the fair. Approximately 2,000 students, ranging from third graders to high school seniors, and representing 150 Cleveland schools, brought projects to show. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Agricola Winners, 1975
Agricola Winners, 1975 Agricola winners stand with their teacher, Luther Karrer, at a Garden Fair in September 1975. The Agricola, “the Oscar for horticulture,” was given to winners in three categories: flower arranging, plant growing, and for the posters, essays, or caricatures. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections
The Garden Center of Cleveland Silver Medal
The Garden Center of Cleveland Silver Medal An October 1975 medal awarded to a Cleveland Public School student by the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland for participation in the Garden Program. Silver medals were awarded for eight years of successful gardening and smaller green and gold pins were awarded to five year gardeners. Through this Award program, not only was the Garden Center recognizing outstanding gardening, it was also using the awards as a way to attract more students. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Front Entrance
Front Entrance A current look at the Cleveland Botanical Garden's main entrance as it is prepares for Glow, its annual winter extravaganza. Today, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens boasts 10 acres of outdoor garden space as well as an 18,000-square-foot glasshouse. Source: Rachel L. Littler
Rose Garden, 1931
Rose Garden, 1931 This view of the Rose Garden shows the unique retreat that the Garden Center of Cleveland created. Also featured in the picture is Wade Hall. Originally built as a deer barn in 1886, the structure was moved to its current location at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in the 1970s. Source: Cleveland State University, Special Collections Department
President Clark and Mayor Ralph Locher, 1963
President Clark and Mayor Ralph Locher, 1963 Taken in 1963, this picture shows the Garden Center President Mrs. Clark shows Mayor Ralph Locher the plans for the new home of the Garden Center. Mrs. Clark also was an important advocate of landscaping the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, where her husband served as treasurer and board member. She further supported several other cultural institutions, including a term as president of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Source: Cleveland State University Special Collections Library
Cold Reception
Cold Reception Viewing the polar bears at Wade Park Zoo, c., 1900 Source: Cleveland State University, Special Collections Department
Wade Hall at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Wade Hall at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Wade Hall, built in the 1880s for the zoo at Wade Park, was moved to the Cleveland Zoo in Old Brooklyn in 1975. Source: Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery


11030 East Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44106


Rachel L. Littler and Chris Roy, “Cleveland Botanical Garden,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 13, 2024,