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Thornhill Education Center

Thornhill Education Center at The Morton Arboretum

The Thornhill Education Center has had an important role in the Morton family and in the services of The Morton Arboretum.

Located on the west side of the Arboretum, the Thornhill Education Center is on the site of the original Morton family mansion. Constructed in 1910, the home was razed in the early 1940s following the passing of Joy Morton's wife, Margaret, who was the last family member living there. The family's request was to have an education center built on the site. A library, which had been added to the home in 1923, was preserved as part of the Thornhill Education Center, and is now called the Founder's Room. The Thornhill Education Center was renovated and refurbished in 1993, providing modern facilities for an expanding education program. Today space is also available for private rentals.

The landscape around the Thornhill Education Center contains a mix of plants including original specimens that surrounded the mansion during the days of Morton residence. Notable plants around Thornhill include White Tigress maple (Acer 'White Tigress') and Accolade™ elm (Ulmus 'Morton').

A gentleman's library

When the Thornhill Education Center opened in 1942, it replaced most of Joy Morton's mansion. Only the original library, now known as the Founder’s Room, remains. This room, with its English oak paneling, carved stone mantelpiece, and decorative plaster ceiling, looks much as it did when it served as Morton's private library. It features exhibits of photographs, letters, and other memorabilia pertaining to the Morton family and Arboretum history. (The Sterling Morton Library, located in the Administration & Research Center, opened in 1963 and continues to serve as the Arboretum's current library.) 

Trees commemorated in stained glass

Joy Morton incorporated his passion for trees into his library. On the south wall is a bay of 10 windows containing stained-glass medallions depicting famous trees from history and legend. To see a photo of a particular stained-glass medallion, click on the title below.

Generations pass while some trees stand
The quotation encircling this image comes from the seventeenth-century sage Sir Thomas Brown who pondered mortality in his essay Hydriotaphia (1658). Find the second part of this two-part quotation on window 6.

Linnaeus linden 
The seated figure is Carl Linnaeus, with two figures (possibly his parents) beside him and a linden tree above. What does a linden have to do with the father of modern plant and animal taxonomy? When Carl was born in 1707, most Swedish people had no surnames. His father coined the surname Linnaeus after a linden tree that had given their family property, Linnagård, its name. 

Trysting tree of Robin Hood 
The heroic thief Robin Hood, depicted here in red, regularly met with his fellow yeomen at a tree dubbed their trysting tree. In various folklore ballads and tales, the tree serves as a gathering spot, a place to hide from the Sherriff of Nottingham, and a location for Robin to meet with his love Maid Marian.

Justice tree 
A reference to "1300" gives a clue to this image, which probably represents a scene from Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, set in 1300. In the final cantos of Purgatorio, Dante uses a tree to represent the divine justice of God on earth. "Lime tree," a permutation of line or linden tree, refers to the traditional role of lindens as trees of justice in mythology.

King Xerxes’ plane 
According to Greek historian Herodotus, in 480 B.C. King Xerxes of Persia stopped his army in a grove of stately plane trees. Smitten by one tree's exceptional beauty, he adorned it with jewelry and put off conquering Greece for a few days. The delay cost the Persians the war.

And old families last not three oaks 
The second part of Sir Thomas Brown's quotation (see window 1 for the first) emphasizes the briefness of human immortality. Three successive oaks, he says, live longer than our memory of even old families. "Hesperides" refers to a mythological garden with golden apples that bestow immortality.

Washington Elm, Cambridge, 1775 
George Washington did take command of the American army in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1775. There is no official record, however, that he did so under an elm tree. Nonetheless, in the 1830s just such a legend became attached to one stately elm. The tree died in 1923, but the legend endures.

Council Magnolia, Charleston 
Charleston, South Carolina, never had a "Council Magnolia." It did, however, have a Liberty Tree, under which Charlestonians heard the Declaration of Independence read for the first time. The artist was probably thinking of that tree—with one error. The Liberty Tree was an oak, not a magnolia.

Treaty tree, Philadelphia, 1683 
In 1683, William Penn and Lenape tribe leaders entered a historic peace treaty that paved the way for the founding of Philadelphia. The event possibly took place under an elm tree, or at least it did in a famous 1771 painting of the meeting. That painting's popularity guaranteed the tree's immortality even after it fell in 1810.

Charter Oak, Hartford, 1687 
Connecticut's celebrated tree rose to fame after King James II, hoping for more control, sent an agent with an armed force to seize the Charter of Connecticut in 1687. According to legend, colonial leaders hid the charter in a white oak tree, which soon became a symbol of liberty. It fell in 1856.