Creation of the Garden Center
The founding of The Cleveland Garden Center begins with library books and an abandoned boathouse. In 1916, Mrs. Andrew Squire gave her collection of 250 horticultural books to the Garden Club of Greater Cleveland. Due to lack of space, the Museum of Art generously offered to store the books. The Garden Club landscaped the grounds extending from the Museum of Art to Euclid Avenue into a Fine Arts Garden.
An empty brick boathouse was nearby, and it was feared usage would distract from the Garden. On January 24, 1930, six members of The Garden Club – Mrs. Thomas P. Howell, Mrs. William G. Mather, Mrs. Walter C. White, Mrs. Charles A. Otis, Mrs. John Sherwin, and Mrs. Windsor T. White – met and came up with the idea of renovating the boathouse into a library and garden center. The Museum of Art endorsed the project and a French Street Fair held in June of 1930 raised $17,000 for the new center. On December 4, 1930, the Cleveland Garden Center opened its doors to the public, becoming what is now the oldest civic garden center in the country.
The Early Years: 1930 – 1966
The purpose of the new Garden Center was “to promote such knowledge and love of gardening as will result in a more beautiful community.” Specifically, a library was developed to include all subjects pertaining to flowers and gardens. The boathouse included a main exhibition hall and offices on the first floor and the library housing 500 books (including donations from both Museum of Art and Cleveland Public Library as well as Eleanor Squire’s intimal donation) and dressing rooms on the second floor.
In the beginning, free admission, exhibits and lectures were offered to the public. Two scholarships were established to acquire post-graduate students in botany to assist in reference questions. The Garden Center was reorganized as The Garden Center of Greater Cleveland in 1933, ending sponsorship from The Garden Club of Greater Cleveland and establishing individual memberships. By the mid-thirties the library was receiving rare books and botanical prints.
1937 represented a pivotal year in the library’s history. The Garden Club made a donation of $300.00 in memory of Eleanor Squire and the new library hence became officially known as the Eleanor Squire Memorial Library. This donation allowed the purchase of 150 new books and along with previous duplicates, portions of the library’s collection were allowed to circulate, making the library now one of the oldest circulating garden libraries in the world. Finally, a children’s corner and collection was established in 1937 as well. The building was expanded in 1939, tripling its size. The Eleanor Squire Memorial Library, much larger with knotty pine paneling and colonial furniture, was now housed downstairs in the north wing. In 1940, the Garden Center established a west side branch at the old Cudell House at 10013 Detroit Ave., complete with a reference library. By the end of its first 10 years, the library had 1800 volumes, mostly donations. During WWII, the library served as a collection agency for book gifts for the United Service Organization. Emphasis was shifted to seed catalogs and books on vegetable growing during this time. In 1950, the Western Reserve Chapter of the Herb Society of America presented its book collection to the library.
By its 25 anniversary, the library was recognized as the third largest and best in the country (behind the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and New York Botanical Garden) with a collection of nearly 7,000 books, 200 periodicals, and rare flower prints. In the early sixties, The Eleanor Squire Library received a portion of the Warren H. Corning Collection of Horticultural Classics. Corning was the first director of the Holden Arboretum and his collection at the time was considered one of the finest of rare gardening books in the country.
In 1959, a flash flood came down East Boulevard and did major damage to The Center, ruining books and washing away the outside stairs. Two more floods in the early sixties did more damage. The possibility of future floods, inadequate parking, and cramped space including overflowing in the library began the notion to move to a new location. Donations from the Hanna Fund and the Mather Foundation made it possible to start a fund raising program.
The New Center: 1966 –2003
The building site chosen for the new Garden Center was a short move northward on land occupied by the Cleveland Zoo from 1889 to 1907. The wooden Victorian Gothic building that stood in the present herb garden was the deer barn and the ravine where the present Japanese Garden stands was a bear pit. The new building was planned by William Platt of New York and was designed being compatible with its natural surroundings. Ground breaking at 11030 East Boulevard started in October, 1964 and after 14 months and $1,850,000 in funds, the new Garden Center of Greater Cleveland opened on January 12, 1966.
Memorial gifts were abundant from the beginning from individuals, garden clubs, corporations and foundations. The Garden Room, given by the Garden Club of Cleveland, overlooks both the ravine and terrace. The Main Room of the Eleanor Squire Library was funded by the Shaker Lakes Garden Club. Shelved in lovely teakwood and brass grilles for the rare books, the collection stood at 10,000 volumes and 150 periodicals on opening day. The new building began an exciting chapter in our library history as more space could offer substantial growth in the library collection. By its 60th anniversary, The Garden Center of Greater Cleveland boasted a library with nearly 15,000 volumes (encompassing both the Main Room and Garden Room) with major strengths in general gardening, landscape architecture, and flower arrangement. Prior to the computers, staff handled over 500 telephone queries a month.
During the 1970’s through the 1990’s, education continued to be a strong component of the library’s focus. After 10 years of research, librarian Richard T. Isaacson completed The Flowering Plant Index of Illustration and Information, an invaluable reference book that the Garden Center published in 1979. Stanley Johnston, the rare book historian at Holden Arboretum, published The Cleveland Herbal, Botanical, and Horticultural Collections in 1991, then again a trade copy in 1998 called Cleveland Treasures From the World of Botanical Literature. His study at the time of the rare botanical literature of three Cleveland area institutions (including the Eleanor Squire Library) was considered one of the most comprehensive and researched at the time.
The Biomes and Beyond: 2003
After an 18 month renovation, the Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse was completed, featuring an 18,000 square-foot conservatory containing two biomes. Opening in July 2003, the two biomes represent the diversity of flora and fauna in contrasting ecosystems: The Spiny Desert of Madagascar and the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica. The Glasshouse was the foundation of a successful $50 million capital campaign and endowment that led to more improvements including a climate-controlled environment for the library’s rare book collection. Recognized for their historical importance and scarcity of material, the 926 titles were appraised in 2007 for over two million dollars.
2012- Present: New Library and Merger with Holden Arboretum
Renovation of the new library started in July 2012 and was completed in November. Just down the hall from its previous location, the modernized library overlooks the Japanese Garden and features a more contemporary library setting. For the first time special collections books are the focal point with a climate-controlled, glass-encased room, which features one-of-a-kind titles dating back to the early 1800’s. Those collections were protected here for a small period of time; however, the Cleveland Botanical Garden merged with Holden Arboretum in 2014 and became Holden Forest & Gardens, making the organization the 12th largest public garden in the United States. As a result of the merger, rare books from the Eleanor Squire Library were moved to the Warren Corning library at the Arboretum and are available for research and reference by appointment. Both libraries have combined their catalogs into one searchable database for convenience and circulation.
Eleanor Squire Library Timetable
- 1916: Eleanor Squire donated books to Garden Club of Greater Cleveland
- 1916-1930: books stored at Museum of Art
- 1930: boathouse renovated on Wade Lagoon, became Garden Center
- 1936: library putting aside books as “rare” or “see librarian”
- 1937: circulation began with portion of collection / memorial library / children’s books
- 1939: Center expanded (library now on 1st floor)
- 1950-60’s: received portion of Warren Corning’s rare Horticultural Classics collection
- 1960’s: major flooding and damage to books prompted plans for new location
- 1966: moved to present location, rare books stored in locked glass case
- 1979: The Flowering Plant Index published
- 1991: The Cleveland Herbal, Botanical, and Horticultural Collections published
- 1998: Cleveland Treasures From the World of Botanical Literature published
- 2001: rare books packed and stored at CWRU during building of rare book room
- 2003: rare books returned from CWRU and placed in new controlled room
- 2006: Thomas Urban donates collection of rare wildflower books (187 titles)
- 2007: reclassification of collection completed
- 2008: online library catalog introduced
- 2006-2008: rare books appraised (3.2 million)
- 2010: cataloging of rare books completed (926 titles)
- 2012: library relocated, will be reduced to 25% of floor space
- 2014: Cleveland Botanical Garden and The Holden arboretum merge
- 2014: all rare books are stored at Holden’s Corning library
- 2016: host site of Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries national conference