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History of Elm Bank

Elm Bank was first developed as a private residence in the 17th century. It was given its name in 1740 when Colonel John Jones acquired the land and planted elms along the banks of the Charles. The site was later occupied by the Loring, Broad, and Otis families before it was sold for $10,000 in 1874 to Benjamin Pierce Cheney, an early founder of the delivery company that later became American Express. Mr. Cheney joined the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1864 and became one of its most generous supporters.

At the time of his death in 1895, the estate contained over 200 acres. The property passed to Cheney’s eldest daughter Alice in 1905. In 1907, Alice and her husband, Dr. William Hewson Baltzell, engaged an architectural firm to build a neo-Georgian manor house, and the most prominent landscapers of the day, the Olmsted Brothers, were hired to design and improve the gardens. The Cheney-Baltzells were grand entertainers, and their residence and gardens were designed in that spirit. Further details on the history of Elm Bank during this period are available in volume 8 of the Journal of the New England Garden History Society.

With no heirs wishing to live on the estate after the death of Mrs. Baltzell, a number of organizations then owned the property. In the 1940s, it became a seminary housing a group of Stigmatine Fathers, who constructed a school building and maintained the grounds. They also ran a popular summer camp in the 1960s and 70s. Later, Elm Bank served as the home of the Quinobin Regional Technical School. The entire site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and is currently owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In April of 1996, after a public process that included thoughtful consideration of all aspects of the site, MassHort signed a lease with the Commonwealth and pledged to bring Elm Bank back to life for generations to come. Click here for a complete history of MassHort.


In addition to its wonderful natural environment, Elm Bank also contains a collection of buildings that house the Society’s programs.

Putnam Horticulture Building
This building is used for garden club and plant society meetings as well as for MassHort’s lectures and workshops. The site’s greenhouses are used for propagating and growing plants used at Elm Bank and at the annual New England Spring Flower Show.

Horticultural Education Center
Constructed in 1957, this former school building has been renovated into the Society’s horticultural education center. The library, once housed in Horticultural Hall in downtown Boston, is now located on the building’s first floor. The building houses MHS staff, class facilities as well as the Master Gardener operations including the Master Gardener HelpLine and Plant Clinic.

Hunnewell Building
The estate’s former carriage house has been renamed to honor the late Walter Hunnewell, former president of MASSHORT and a lasting patron of horticulture throughout his life. Now completely renovated and accessible to people with disabilities, the building’s original vaulted and trussed ceiling is exposed, capping a great event hall of nearly 3,000 square feet. With a large catering kitchen and a full complement of tables, chairs, and other event-related furnishings, the Hunnewell Building is available for gatherings of up to 250. An attached three-season tent, reached through the same Palladian-style doors that once admitted stylish motorcars, makes the building the perfect venue for symposia, lectures, weddings, charitable benefits, and other public events. Both structures can accommodate approximately 300 guests for a sit-down dinner or 400 for a standing reception. Lecture and classroom configurations are also available for up to 225 people. For rates and information on renting this historic building please contact Jen Courney, Functions and Rentals Coordinator, at 617-933-4921 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The gardens and grounds of Elm Bank provide a beautiful backdrop for filming and are available for such opportunities. Elm Bank filming rates and guidelines are available by calling Michael Opton at 617-933-4961.

About the Massachusetts Horticultural Society

Mass Hort logo newFounded in 1829, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society is dedicated to encouraging the science and practice of horticulture and developing the public's enjoyment, appreciation, and understanding of plants and the environment.

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