THE BOTANICAL BLOG
July 2nd, 2012
By Peter Longley
Botanical Center and Gardens
The July 4th holiday is just two days away. I hope everyone has a great and safe holiday with hopefully, just a little relief from the current oppressive heat. Several picnics have been booked in the park for family celebrations and it is fitting that on this day when we celebrate independence, freedom, and our democratic rights, some choose do so at the pavilion in Nathanael Greene Park. Nathanael Greene Park is actually the northern half of our 114 acre botanical garden complex here in Springfield. It was originally land that belonged to the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. They raised crops on the land for the facility and kept hogs and cattle there making the prison hospital a fairly self-sufficient institution. However, with the growth of supermarkets and frozen foods in the 1970s and cheaper transportation costs, it became less of a saving and more of an expense, and the farm land was deeded back to the City of Springfield from the U.S Department of Interior and Bureau of Prisons. Thus, in 1975 the 59 acre Nathanael Greene Park was created.
As a point of interest, the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners Springfield facility was built after Congress authorized construction of a prison hospital in 1930 to provide intensive medical, surgical and psychiatric care for federal offenders. The institution, which was the only one in the world at that time, opened in June 1933 at a cost of just over $ 2 million. The annual budget that year was $ 500,000.
Springfield’s residents are well aware that they live in Greene County, but many may not know why. Nathanael Greene Park helps to explain that. Both the county and park are named after Nathanael Greene who was born on August 7, 1742 and was at his prime at the time of the declaration of independence on July 4, 1776. He was a major general of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War, but when the war began, Greene was a militia private, the lowest rank possible. He emerged from the war with a reputation as George Washington’s most gifted and dependable officer. Many places in the United States are named for him including Greene County which was organized in 1833, and Nathanael Greene Park here in Springfield.
As part of our Botanical Center and Gardens, Nathanael Greene Park houses two of our most important gardens, the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden, that is our oldest garden in the park and covers over 7 acres, and the Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Garden. An early garden in the park was also the Federated Garden Clubs’ garden close to the area that will one day be our Sensory Garden–a most exciting project to be developed over the next few years that will be especially valuable for handicapped visitors appealing to touch, smell, sight, taste and sound. Provisional plans for this and a future conservatory have been drawn up and will enhance the standing of our Botanical Center and Gardens in both the mid-west and the nation. The Federated Garden Clubs’ garden has been lovingly restored over the past two years by our Springfield and Greene County clubs and like the Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Gardens is only a short walk from the Botanical Center building.
Last, but not least, I must mention the Lions’ Club History walk in Nathanael Greene Park, that has dedicated stones laid in the grass honoring both national heroes like George Washington and local heroes like Edwin Hubble from Marshfield, Missouri, who invented the telescope that has so dramatically changed our understanding of the universe. As you walk from stone to stone you can sense the pride that we have in Springfield for our great nation that celebrates its birthday this week. Happy Birthday America!!!