The Massachusetts Horticultural Society, founded in 1829, is the oldest, formally organized horticultural institution in the United States. Providing information on horticulture and related sciences, it has disseminated this information through its Library, educational programming, exhibitions and community outreach initiatives. MHS has successfully championed many important issues throughout its history, such as the introduction of food plants (Concord Grape, 1853), the garden cemetery movement (Mount Auburn Cemetery, 1831), the school garden movement (1880s), the adornment Boston’s back alleys by establishing home gardens (1930s), the victory garden movement (1940s), and the garden history movement (1990).
Since 2001, the headquarters of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society has been at Elm Bank, located on the town lines of Wellesley and Dover. The Society is supported by revenues generated by membership (the organization currently has approximately 5,500 members), weddings and functions at our Elm Bank location, and by generous contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations. These funds support the Society’s mission throughout Massachusetts and at the Gardens at Elm Bank. MHS currently receives no government funding.
THE MANOR HOUSE
More than a century ago, Alice Cheney-Balzell realized a grand vision for her father’s estate at Elm Bank. As the steward of this beautiful property, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society wants to keep this vision alive. The question is: “How do we restore the manor house and have it be a sustainable asset for Mass Hort?” The estate passed through several owners before Benjamin Pierce Cheney, a businessman and a member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Financial Committee, bought it for $10,000 in 1874. Cheney built a Victorian style house among the ancient elms. In 1907, his daughter Alice Cheney Balzell, inherited the property, and devoted herself to its grand transformation during her thirty-year residence. She commissioned architects John Marvin Carrere and Thomas Hastings, who designed the New York Public Library, to design a neo-Georgian house, and the Olmsted Brothers Firm to design the grounds. The estate was called Elm Bank. After Alice Cheney Baltzell died in 1938, the house reverted to Dartmouth College. In 1940, the college sold it to the Stigmatine Fathers, who operated a school and camp for thirty five years. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts purchased the property in the mid 1970s and in 1996, the 36-acre property was leased to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for a term of 100 years. Operations moved to Elm Bank in 1998 and by 2001 the Society had established its headquarters and horticultural center at Elm Bank. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As Massachusetts Horticultural Society looks to the future, discussions of the manor house and its potential are part of that conversation.