Franklin Park History Has Links To Chicago World's Fair

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The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has served central Ohio for more than a century.

The conservatory, a destination along East Broad Street, is known for weddings, food and wine events and the Asian Festival.

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was founded in 1850 when the Franklin County Agriculture Society purchased the land, 10TV's Kurt Ludlow reported.

In the late 1800s, the conservatory hired one of the architects behind the Columbian Exposition, known as the World's Fair in Chicago, to build the John F. Wolfe Palm House.

"In 1895, you had the palm house and this beautiful 88-acre park, and people would stroll around the park with their family and friends," said Franklin Park Conservatory Executive Director Bruce Harkey. "So, it was a way for Columbus as the state capital to really become a major city, and Franklin Park Conservatory and the palm house was an important part of that strategy by the community leaders."

The grounds also served as the original home of the Columbus Zoo and the state fairgrounds.

During the mid-1900s, the facility fell into a state of disrepair, Ludlow reported. 

The facility's women's board helped lead to Franklin Park's resurgence.

"We have a wonderful women's board that was started in, I believe, 1964," Harkey said. "They came together under the leadership of Ann Wolfe, and they were the organization that raised some of the initial funds to restore the palm house, the entrance to the palm house, and that set the stage for AmeriFlora."

AmeriFlora brought millions to central Ohio in the early 1990s to see a spectacular floral display. The event led to even more exhibits that can still be seen today.

"The palm house was restored, all of the biomes, which we have today, the atrium, a lot of the gardens," Harkey said. "It was about a $14 million expansion that took place."

The conservatory is now home to the largest collection of Dale Chihuly's blown glass and delights children each year with its annual Blooms and Butterflies exhibit, Ludlow reported.

Harkey said that the conservatory helps lift the neighborhood.

"We have more community gardens in central Ohio than any other large city in the country," Harkey said. "And that has a dramatic impact on lifting people's lives and transforming communities that are in distress."

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