FRANKLIN PARK CONSERVATORY
On any given weekday, the people of Columbus, Ohio can step out of the hectic pace of the regular world and back in time by walking through the doors of Franklin Park Conservatory. Since its opening in 1895, Franklin Park Conservatory has offered a tranquil oasis from the rest of the world. Spanning 88 acres, the park and its many gardens are home to more than 400 hundred species of plants representing climates as various as the Himalayan Mountains, the rain forest, desert, and the Pacific islands. These varied gardens also serve as a backdrop for the stunning works of glass artist Dale Chihuly. Outside the building are the botanical gardens – visitors walk through the entry plaza to enter into the conservatory but the Bride’s Garden and Cascades are must-see destinations for any trip to this historical site as well.
Even before the park existed, the very site of it was rich with history and significance. It was on these grounds that General William Tecumseh Sherman gave his famous “War is Hell” speech to Civil War Veterans during the state fair in August, 1880.
The oldest part of the Conservatory is the stunning glass and steel structure now called the Palm House, so named for the more than 40 species of palms curated within. This was the building originally designed and built when the city chose to convert the old state fairgrounds into a public park. We can only imagine what it must have been like at the turn of the century, when visitors to the conservatory would have entered into the brand new glass structure. The conservatory was built in the popular Victorian style, like many other conservatories of the era.
Unfortunately, not much is known about the early days of Franklin Park Conservatory. Records from that time were kept in the Columbus City Hall and were sadly lost in a fire in 1921. We do know that for a brief time, from 1927 – 1929, animals were kept in the lower room of the conservatory. These animals would later become part of the first inhabitants of the newly opened Columbus Zoo.
In recognition of the beauty and value of Franklin Park Conservatory, the original structure – today called the John F. Wolfe Palm house – was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
In 1992, Franklin Park Conservatory was host to AmeriFlora, a world-renowned horticultural exposition. In preparation for the event, the conservatory was given a facelift and upgrade, adding a gift shop and dining area among others, making it a true destination for lunch, tourism and culture. While AmeriFlora was not a commercial success for the conservatory, it did bring in more than a million visitors during the exposition. After the event was over, Franklin Park Conservatory found new life under a new executive director and the conservatory blossomed.
It is a rare thing to see a conservatory with as rich a history as Franklin Park Conservatory still as active and vibrant today as it was more than 110 years ago when it first opened its doors.
Today, visitors can stop for a bite at the café, pick up a gift or souvenir from the gift shop, idle away the hours in each of the impressive collections, take a gardening class or appreciate the over 3000 works of glass artist Dale Chihuly. The Dale Chihuly collection is owned by the conservatory, purchased at a cost of nearly $7 million in 2004. It is the only public botanical garden with ownership of a collection of this size.
The conservatory offers a variety of classes for amateur gardeners hoping to improve their own homes. And the conservatory doesn’t close down at night; cocktail events are held weekly. Traveling exhibits make each visit to the conservatory different from the last.