Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a premier horticultural and educational institution with a rich history dating back over 150 years.
In 1852, the Franklin County Agriculture Society purchased 88 acres located two miles east of downtown Columbus as a site for the first Franklin County Fair. In 1874, that land was made the official grounds of the Ohio State Fair. Ohio Legislature passed a resolution declaring the site as Franklin Park and open for public use in 1884.
Influenced by the success of Chicago’s World Fair and Columbian Exposition in 1893 and inspired by the City Beautiful movement, the city of Columbus built a grand Victorian-style glass greenhouse in the park. Known today as the Palm House, it opened to the public in 1895 as Franklin Park Conservatory. The park was a popular destination for the surrounding community who enjoyed its carriage paths, lake and boathouse.
Columbus Recreation and Parks Department owned and operated the Conservatory until 1989. During that time, the facility developed a reputation for horticultural excellence with the display of rare and unusual plants. The Conservatory also became a popular location for family gatherings, weddings, and events.
Franklin Park and the Conservatory became the host site for AmeriFlora ’92, a six-month international horticulture exposition. Renovation of the historic Palm House and a $14-million expansion began in 1989. Additions totaled 58,000 square feet and included expanded plant collections, classrooms, a library, gift shop, café and administrative offices.
Ohio Legislature created the Franklin Park Conservatory Joint Recreation District for the long-term management of the Conservatory. Ownership of the Conservatory and surrounding 28 acres was conferred to a new 10-member board of trustees and an executive director in 1992.
In 1994, the Conservatory debuted Blooms & Butterflies, becoming the first conservatory in the nation to showcase a seasonal butterfly exhibition. Almost 20 years later, this annual exhibition continues to attract thousands of visitors and school groups each year.
In 2003, the Conservatory presented Chihuly at the Conservatory, a popular exhibition that brought a record number of visitors to view it. The Friends of the Conservatory, a private, nonprofit group, purchased most of the pieces in the exhibition to become a permanent collection. Several exhibitions that merge nature and art have followed. Chapungu: Stories in Stone was a collection of beautiful and compelling stone sculptures by self-taught artists from Zimbabwe, Branching Out featuring the work of Patrick Daugherty, Paul Busse’s imaginative garden railroads. Contemporary artists including Dennis Oppenheim, Laura Stein, Andy Goldsworthy and others came together in an exhibition titled Bending Nature. Glass artist Debra Moore’s orchids enchanted visitors in 2011, with Aurora Robson’s sculptures debuting at the Conservatory in 2012.
In 2002, the Conservatory undertook the first phase of a comprehensive Master Plan and raised $23M to support new construction projects. New gardens, event venues and additions to the Palm House were dedicated in 2008 and contemporary light artist James Turrell was commissioned to illuminate the Palm House with a permanent installation. In September 2009, the Conservatory converted four acres of Franklin Park into the four-acre ScottsMiracle-Gro Community Garden Campus. The first phase of the Master Plan closed in 2011 with the completion of a 9,200 sq. ft. support greenhouse.