||Nature – where Order in Variety we see,|
And where, though all things differ,
From a poem by
Alexander Pope (1668-1744)
as carved in the fireplace mantel
in the Garden House.
Our tour of the Boerner Botanical Gardens begins in the Garden House. Here you will find portraits of three men who were instrumental in bringing us the beauty of the Gardens: Charles B. Whitnall, the father of Milwaukee County park system; Alfred Boerner, the designer of the Gardens; and John Voight, the man who implemented their vision during his 38 year tenure as Director of the Gardens.
The Vision of Charles B. Whitnall
"He knew the soul of man needed beauty, and from the beginning
he set himself the task of bringing to the doorway of the city
the freshness of the countryside."
Mrs. C.M. Barr, speaking of Whitnall at a 1940 award ceremony.
Charles B. Whitnall, born Jan. 21, 1859 near the banks of the Milwaukee River, was a lifelong Milwaukee resident. By the time he was 60, he had been a successful businessman, City of Milwaukee Treasurer, and founder of a Milwaukee bank. His greatest successes, however, were yet to come.
Secretary of the Milwaukee County Park Commission since its inception in 1907, Whitnall served in that capacity until his retirement on Jan. 1, 1941 at the age of 81. Always a promoter of land acquisition along Milwaukee County waterways and lakefront for park use, Whitnall envisioned a large tract of land in a rural area where all Milwaukee County citizens could come into intimate contact with lakes, streams, trees, shrubs and flowers. He found that tract of land in 1924 and began to push for the purchase of the acreage that is now Whitnall Park.
His efforts were met with derision at first, but Whitnall persisted and five years later, those efforts were successful. He continued in an active role in the development of his namesake park, and when he died in 1949, his ashes were scattered in the woods of Whitnall Park.
"Hey, you may not believe it, but this place was all fields,
mostly corn stubble."
William Ragio, former CCC worker, when he first saw the land in 1933.
In 1848, much of the land comprising today's Whitnall Park was extensively farmed. Descendants of one of these early farm families, the Merrity's, were still farming the land when it was purchased by Milwaukee County in 1929-30. Their log cabin stood where the restored CCC building is today.
When originally purchased, the land was named Hales Corners Park. In 1932, The Park Commission renamed the park in honor of Charles B. Whitnall. During 1934-5, the Federal Government gave the county 1400 acres of land bordering the Root River which they had purchased as part of the greenbelt concept for their newly built Village of Greendale. Bolstered by additional county purchases, the Root River Parkway and the adjoining Whitnall Park now total 3244 acres.
Alfred L. Boerner and His Views
It is not only for us, but for our children and grandchildren
who will reap the full benefit.
Alfred L. Boerner describing his plans for Whitnall Park.
The dream of a large rural park required the vision of a landscape architect, Alfred L. Boerner, to become a reality. Boerner, born in Cedarburg in 1900, was educated in the relatively new field of landscape architecture. In 1927, the young Boerner was appointed Milwaukee County's Landscape Architect.
Boerner staunchly believed a park should provide both aesthetic and educational gratification: there should be woodlands with large groves of trees with trails, open meadows and vistas, and areas of water and playing fields.
|Boerner believed all this should be provided in an environment of beauty, and he proceeded with the design of the Botanical Gardens, with the axis of the perennial and annual malls centering on the fountain as a focal point, and with vistas to the south and west at the end of the malls.
Boerner was a determined man who involved himself in every phase of the planting operation. Even though seedings and young trees were being planted, Boerner could envision their appearance at maturity and their effect on the park landscape. Boerner became General Manager of the Milwaukee County Park System in 1952. Three years later, at the age of 55, Boerner died of heart failure. In 1957, the Gardens he designed were renamed the Boerner Botanical Gardens. A plaque at the Garden House entrance pays tribute to his genius with the words "These gardens are a memorial to Alfred L. Boerner 1900-1955 whose vision and artistic talent contributed so greatly to the design, growth, and outstanding development of the Milwaukee County Park System."
Continue your tour
Boerner Botanical Gardens
9400 Boerner Drive, Hales Corners, WI 53130