Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Preserving the Legacy of Lord & Burnham

Posted in History on August 25 2015, by Stephen Sinon

Stephen Sinon is Head of Information Services and Archives in the New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library.

Sample of plans from the Lord & Burnham Co. collection
Sample of plans from the Lord & Burnham Co. collection

The Lord and Burnham Co. was the premier builder of glasshouses in 19th- and 20th-century America. The firm was a natural choice for the founders of The New York Botanical Garden to turn to as they commissioned the design and construction of the largest and finest conservatory in America, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, which remains the centerpiece of the Garden today. Lord and Burnham constructed glasshouses for many well-known private clients, schools, parks, and botanical gardens across the country, but they never built anything larger than the Haupt Conservatory, which features a 90-foot central dome and one acre under glass.

The original plans and drawings for the Haupt Conservatory can be found in the Garden Archives along with architectural plans for 140,000 other clients which form part of the surviving business records of the Lord and Burnham Co.

Rendering of Charles V. Paterno glasshouse
Rendering of Charles V. Paterno glasshouse

This rich collection of architectural drawings, correspondence and advertising artwork offers a unique look at a major American company during the golden age of American industrialization. The collection contains a trove of original research materials for glasshouse enthusiasts and architectural historians, and provides an overview of photo reproduction processes in use during the 19th and 20th centuries.

This book was written by interns processing the Lord and Burnham Collection and is illustrated with many images of plans and drawings from the collection.
This book is illustrated with many images of plans and drawings from the collection.

When the company dissolved in 1987, its architectural and business records were transferred to the Garden. Since that time, the Library has received several grants to inventory and preserve portions of the collection. With recent funding from the New York State Archives Documentary Heritage Program, the remaining portion of the plans and drawings have been inventoried and rehoused for long term storage.

A complete finding guide for the collection has been prepared and an online subject guide introducing the company’s history and offering several digitized advertising catalogs can be viewed at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library website. This subject guide links to a database that contains an inventory which can be searched by the name of the client or the original location of each structure. So valued were Lord and Burnham’s designs that they were often taken down and moved to other sites when estates were sold.


Marta McDowell said:

This collection was the source of fabulous pearls about the glass houses at the 19th century White House or, as they called it at the time, the Executive Mansion.

Sue Leffler said:

Excellent as Always, Stephen!

Jil said:

We have a L& B Conservatory/Greenhouse on our property that was built in the 30’s. I see that there are 2 files under the original owner’s name at the NYBG. How do I go about viewing/retrieving a copy of the documents? We are the third owner of the property and the last owner put a pool in the greenhouse and we would like to take it back to how it was originally built. I appreciate any help. Thank you!