Construction & History

Construction of Boerner Botanical Gardens   "When we build,
let us think that we build forever.
Let it not be for present delight,
nor for the present use alone;
let it be such work as our descendents will thank us..."


John Ruskin (1619-1900)


A
pproximately 606 acres, more then 92% of the land now contained in Whitnall Park, were purchased during 1929-30. The average price of $376 an acre left the County with little money to develop the park. The land, however, was not to lay dormant for long, as the Great Depression of the 1930's was soon to envelop the County, and employment programs were on their way.

An early Milwaukee County program was first on the scene. Paying workers 50 cents an hour for an 8 hour day four days a week, the county constructed a roadway from Forest Home Avenue into the park. This meager program was soon overwhelmed by the financial stress of rising unemployment. Fortunately, the incoming New Deal administration was formulating programs to put people back to work at the expense of the federal government.

Two federal programs having the greatest impact on Whitnall Park (and other parks as well) were the Civilian Conservation Corps, more commonly referred to as the CCC, and the Works Progress Administration, or the WPA.

The CCC set up Camp Whitnall in June, 1933, where the Trial Gardens and service building are today. It was a tent city at first, but by the Fall of 1933 barracks, latrines, a mess hall, equipment and repair sheds were constructed and occupied. Though the camp was under the control of the U.S. Army, the work of the young men was supervised by civilian construction personnel, usually county employees temporarily on the Federal payroll.

CCC workers were generally 21 or younger and from families on relief. They were paid approximately $30 per month (plus Army style room and board), of which $25 was sent directly to their families with only the balance theirs for personal needs.

At first, these young men chafed under Army discipline but soon saw the worth of what they were doing. They built the roads and bridges of Whitnall Park, dug lagoons and a lake, cleared streams and built dams, moved and rearranged tons of earth, and planted thousands of trees and shrubs.

The WPA came on the scene in 1935 and contributed significantly to the development of the formal garden area. Consisting mainly of day workers transported to Whitnall by interurban rail, the work force included not only laborers, but also artisans and craftsmen of many trades and arts.

The Annual Garden at Boerner Botanical Gardens   The construction of the Garden House is a case in point. WPA artisans hand-split native fieldstone to build the exterior walls and chimney. WPA sculptors created stone cats near the entrance, as well as statuary found throughout the Gardens. In the Exhibit Room, craftsmen hand-carved wood animals on the entrance lintel and on the base of oak beams in addition to the inscription on the fireplace mantel. These fine craftsmen also made the massive wood furniture in this room.


Along with the CCC, the WPA was a major force in the construction of the Gardens. The CCC left Camp Whitnall in 1938 and the WPA program at Whitnall ended in 1940. Help furnished by the federal agencies advanced the evolution of the park by 15 to 20 years.

The dream and vision of Charles B. Whitnall and Alfred L. Boerner were becoming reality. Though not changing the basic design of the Gardens, their successors have added and modified areas where appropriate to produce the harmonious place of peace and beauty we have today.

Continue your tour – now entering the Formal Gardens


Boerner Botanical Gardens
9400 Boerner Drive, Hales Corners, WI 53130
(414) 525-5600