Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory

The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is the oldest continually running conservatory in the United States. Located on Belle Isle, it contains a collection of rare and exotic plants from around the world, including palms, tropical plants, cacti, ferns and one of the country’s largest orchid collections. These are housed in five climatic areas: the Palm House, the Cactus House, the Fernery, the Tropical House, and the Show House. Its impressive collection makes it one of the most popular destinations in Detroit. 

Construction on the Conservatory began in 1902 according to the designs of architect Albert Kahn, who along with George Mason also designed the adjacent Belle Isle Aquarium. It was built in the European Modernist style and many of its elements were inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home. The building was originally constructed with glass and a wooden frame, but the wooden frame was replaced with a frame made of steel and aluminum in 1949. The Palm House, which houses tropical trees and palms, sits under an 85-foot tall dome. The impressive building sits on an acre of land, and outside, the Conservatory’s remaining 12 acres host a lily pond garden, perennial garden, fountain, and seasonal floral beds. 

Before 1955, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory was known as the Horticulture Building or, simply, the Conservatory. However, on April 6, 1955, the Conservatory was dedicated to Anna Scripps Whitcomb, who donated her rare and extensive orchid collection. Her collection contained 600 rare orchids, many rescued from Britain during World War II. Thanks to her donation, the City of Detroit became home to one of the largest municipally owned orchid collections in the United States.



Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory postcard, 1924 – 2012.020.813

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory interior postcard, 1912 – 2010.024.013

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