In 1897, Theodore Wirth, the first park superintendent, and the Board of Park Commissioners contracted with the Lord & Burnham Company of New York to build two greenhouses. 

Called the Orchid House and Cactus House, they were completed in 1898 and renovated in 2004. The Lord & Burnham Company provided iron and glass greenhouses, solariums, and conservatories all over the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The archives of the company, containing plans for over 100,000 structures, are kept at the New York Botanical Garden.

The northern greenhouse, called the Propagation and Cactus House, is 100 feet long and 17 feet wide. This was built, along with the Orchid House, in 1898 with the head house connecting the two greenhouses. The Orchid House is 100 feet by only 10 feet wide. The Big House, the south greenhouse, is 100 feet long and 22 feet wide. It was built in 1925 to meet the nursery needs for the park. There are nine cold frames along the south side of the greenhouse.

The greenhouses have been in use every day since they were built, except during renovations. In the 1950s, the greenhouses furnished flowerbeds at 56 locations throughout the city for schools, other parks, city hall and firehouses. Today, over 180,000 plants are grown in the greenhouses for our annual garden. These include the plants used for the American flag bed near the information center.

In December, the Big House is filled with poinsettias, which are used to decorate City Hall for the holidays. It is quite a sight to see the field of red plants filling the greenhouse. In March, the City of Hartford park gardeners and the Conservancy host a Spring Greenhouse Show. In the fall, the Conservancy orders many varieties of bulb plants that are potted and moved to cold storage for the winter. Under a controlled environment, the plants are moved to the greenhouse and will bloom around the middle of March. After the flower show ends, the Conservancy hosts a sale of the plants.

In 2023, Elizabeth Park’s historic greenhouses were dedicated as the Sweetland-Patricelli Greenhouse Complex following a months-long renovation of the three buildings. The renovation project was made possible by a $600,000 grant from The Robert & Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation, Inc. Click HERE to read more about the Sweetland-Patricelli Greenhouse Complex in Elizabeth Park.

Putnam Greenhouse

Down the street from the Governor’s Residence on Prospect Avenue are beautiful stately homes. At one time, these estates extended all the way down to Terry Road, which runs parallel to Prospect Avenue. As back lots were sold off, another wave of homes were built on these streets. This Greenhouse was on one of those last lots. Mr. William Putnam’s estate at 1010 Prospect Avenue is a brownstone home built by the architect Mr. Hilliard Smith in 1924. Mr. Putnam also commissioned a greenhouse by Lord & Burnham. This one was of a more elaborate style, with gothic arches in its entryways. Over the years, Mr. Putnam’s 75-foot greenhouse fell into neglect. The heat was turned off, snow caved in some of the glass panes, and the metal was rusted.

In 2001, the lot was sold and a new home was to be built on it. The Phelan Family gave the Park Mr. Putnam’s entire greenhouse. The Conservancy had it documented and dismantled, and was able to recreate one third of the original structure from the neglected greenhouse. The greenhouse was re-assembled on a new foundation under the management of the Conservancy, with support from the Ethel Donaghue Trust, the City of Hartford, the Town of West Hartford, the Pond House Café, Capitol Restoration Company, New England Greenhouse Structures, and Dubose architects. This greenhouse is used primarily for the display of plants.

In honor of the gift of the Phelan Family, a plaque was placed inside the Putnam Greenhouse, stating that the greenhouse is dedicated to Helen Savicke Phelan, and that the greenhouse was a gift from her son, John F. Phelan, Jr., and his wife, Claudia J. Villamizar Phelen, on March 23, 2002.