September 2014: Local history and Arboretum development

September 2014 library profile:

Local history and Arboretum development


"It does not seem to me that twenty-five miles is too far from the city for an arboretum. Chicago is growing rapidly and before the trees planted now have reached anything like their full size the arboretum would be in a suburb."

~Letter from Charles Sprague Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum to Sterling Morton, January 19, 1921 from the archives of the Sterling Morton Library



The Morton Arboretum was founded by Joy Morton on his estate, Thornhill, in 1922, but of course the history of the land does not begin with the Arboretum. Morton began acquiring land from farmers and prominent community members in 1910 to build Thornhill. Prior to Morton's arrival, the land was part of the pioneer West, with Native American, French explorer, and American pioneer history. The surrounding towns and townships of Glen Ellyn, Lisle, Naperville, Downers Grove, and others have settled history going back to the mid 19th century. The Sterling Morton Library provides resources on the local history of these towns, as well as the development of the Arboretum within these surroundings and local communities. The library also has archives containing letters, maps, photographs, and historical accounts of the Arboretum and history of the land underneath it. These collections include Joy Morton's correspondence with his family, advisors, and employees during the creation and early years of the Arboretum. Using these resources, the history of the land beneath the Arboretum can be explored from long before the Arboretum's inception to the present.



"Sure I remember the ancient trail. It was a continuation of what is now the Butterfield Road from the foot of the hill north of the Strong Place (now the Cutten farm), and ran along the east side of the River to a point between the present Butterfield Road bridge and the bridge across the River in the land that runs south of the Butterfield Road. There are some embankments in there which show where the crossing was. From there the trail proceeded up to the Bonaparte Post Office and then around the hill to the draw on the Chisholm place (now W. A. Rogers' farm). Thence it ran up the hill south of the draw and across your place, Mr. Morton, to the round meadow on your place [now Lake Marmo], which was one of the prettiest places I ever saw. The trail went from there up the creek, through Doumulin's place and clear through the woods to Beaubien's, and then on to Naperville."

~Statement of Joseph Yackley to Joy Morton, November 10, 1916 from the archives of the Sterling Morton Library

Joy Morton on Joy Path, 1930
Joy Morton on Joy Path, 1930 from the archives of the Sterling Morton Library. Planning for the Joy Path is described at left in his letter of 1924

"We have made quite extensive plans for the Arboretum. One is for a group of European trees. Another is a Japanese Island. And the other chief planting is a path leading from my house down to Lake Marmo. This follows the ravine; Sargent Glade will be on the west of it and a form garden to the east. We are going to have fine specimen trees and shrubs all along the path; shall make a particular effort to grow the broad-leafed maples along the path, which is well protected on all sides and I think will ultimately become one of the prettiest parts of the Arboretum."

~Letter from Joy Morton to Charles Sprague Sargent, February 29, 1924 from the archives of the Sterling Morton Library


Library circulating resources

A small selection of those circulating resources we have on the history of the Arboretum and the surrounding area.

A Man of Salt and Trees: The Life of Joy Morton, by James Ballowe 2009

A Great Outdoor Museum: The Story of The Morton Arboretum, by James Ballowe 2003

Around the Arboretum: A Local History, by Richard A. Thompson 1981

1874 Atlas & History of DuPage County, Illinois, by Thompson Bro's and Burr. 1874

The Story of An Old Town - Glen Ellyn, by Ada Douglas Harmon 1928

DuPage Roots, by Richard A. Thompson 1985

Downers Grove Revisited, by Montrew Dunham 2003


Selections from the Sterling Morton Library archives (available by appointment)

Correspondence: Sargent, Charles Sprague (Arnold Arboretum) and Mortons [regarding the development of The Morton Arboretum] 1921-1926. Morton Family Correspondence.

Outline of The Morton Arboretum Development 1921-1966. The Morton Arboretum Records.

Correspondence of Clarence Godshalk, director of The Morton Arboretum 1939-1966. The Morton Arboretum Records.

Statement of Joseph Yackley to Joy Morton Nov 10, 1916 (regards personal and local area history). The Morton Arboretum Records.


Reader's advisory

If interested in local history, also check out our resources on the history of Chicago and Illinois history. For more specific historical interests, the Sterling Morton Library also offers resources on Illinois' pioneers, or further resources on the Morton Family.


Click here to see previous Monthly Library Profiles!