The Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery is the only remaining freestanding Victorian fernery in North America. Originally built in 1899 under the supervision of John Morris, the fernery stands today as a historical time piece, documenting the British obsession with ferns and glasshouses during the Victorian era. The building was constructed using locally mined stone and utilized cutting edge technology in glass cutting, steam heating, and architectural elements.
In the century following the original construction, the fernery slowly fell into disrepair, with several small renovation projects to protect it from destruction. Finally in 1994 the fernery was fully restored to its original grandeur with a gracious donation from board member Dorrance H. Hamilton and other contributors who responded to a major matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This $1.2 million renovation included restoring the roof to the original curvature, replacing and updating the heating and electrical systems, installing an advanced climate control system, and restoring the waterfall, ponds and stone walls. The blue flagstone plaza was also installed during this project to welcome visitors, and provide a shaded relaxing place to stop and enjoy the arboretum.
Nestled in a curve of land below the rose garden, the fernery has become an iconic part of the Morris Arboretum. Its glittering rooftop welcoming visitors into a peaceful space filled with ferns, trickling waterfalls and reflecting pools. A wonderful place to explore in all seasons.
As the United States enters into World War I, coal is rationed to the public to help support the war effort. Since the Fernery was heated with coal, this threatened to devastate the Morris's collection. Lydia T. Morris appeals to then Secretary of Treasury William McAdoo and is granted an exemption for the fernery due to the "irreplaceable and scholarly character of the fern collection".
The fernery is deemed unsafe for the public and closed while the administration works on completing necessary repairs including replacing the roof, fixing the heating system, and repainting sections of metal work.
Fernery is reopened once construction is complete
The A-frame roof is now deemed structurally unsound and the fernery is closed to all visitors. Volunteers and staff are allowed to enter for maintenance and up keep of the collection.
With support from Dorrance H. Hamilton, Morris Arboretum restored the Fernery to its original condition. This included restoring the curved roof, replacing the heating system, reconstructing the rock work, and installing the blue flagstone plaza outside of the fernery.