Glenview is known for many things, but did you know that it has been known for its trees for hundreds of years? When settlers first came to the Glenview area in the 1830s, they encountered an endless sea of tall prairie grasses interspersed by “islands” or “groves” of majestic oak trees. An ancient cottonwood tree among the groves was discovered to be a local landmark for Native American tribes, and was considered to be the largest tree in the Mississippi Valley. This sacred tree was reported to be 165 feet tall with a circumference of 45 feet and an estimated age of 600 years old.
While most of the original groves were unfortunately harvested by early settlers for timber, Glenview became home to many nurseries and continued its tree-loving legacy. In 1847, Dr. John Kennicott and his son Charles opened the first major nursery in Northern Illinois at the all-familiar site we now know as The Grove.
From its very beginning in 1927, the Park District was founded by those who shared a passion for the natural world. Louis Cole, the first Superintendent of Parks and one of the Park District’s original founders, was himself an owner of a local nursery and had a passion for protecting shared community spaces where residents could enjoy the beauty of nature.
Today, the Park District has a goal to plant between 200-300 trees throughout the community each year. Reaching this goal helps us to beautify the parks; provide habitat for wildlife; replace old, damaged or sick trees; and maintain a strong and healthy balance in our species diversity, which helps protect against disease or pests.
What’s more, many of those newly planted trees come from the Park District’s very own nursery! Throughout our history, the Park District has attracted tree lovers interested in growing and propagating our local trees. In the 1980s and prior to the establishment of a Park District nursery, former Maintenance Supervisor and Arborist Mike Sullivan was known to stealthily plant seeds and acorns along the perimeters of parks and nurture the seedlings until they could be transplanted to a new home. In 1989, former Superintendent of Park Services Fred Gullen informally started a nursery space outside the Park Services East building. With a background in horticulture, Fred always had a love of collecting and experimenting with growing acorns and seeds from local trees, and especially rare species hard to find in commercial nurseries at the time.
In the 1990s, Fred oversaw an eagle scout project from a local troop in which 500 oak trees were planted throughout the space that is now known as Community Park West. At the time, a plan for the future park had not yet been developed. In 2008, during the construction of Community Park West, these still young oak trees needed to be moved to make way for park amenities. To preserve these trees, a nursery was created on the west end of the park. Thus began the ongoing endeavor of maintaining and caring for our Glenview Park District Nursery.
The nursery is about an acre of land and has around 300 seedlings growing at any time. Depending on the species, trees generally stay within the nursery for 6-8 years before they are ready to be transplanted to a Glenview park. Park Services team members evaluate and identify existing trees within our parks that are healthy, hearty and long-lived from which to take seeds. It is important to start with thriving trees, to ensure your seedlings have strong genes. Growing our own trees provides a valuable learning experience, as well as a sense of pride, for Park District staff.
Caretaking within the nursery is a team effort among the Park Services staff. Watering is most important, but only really needed during dry conditions. Pruning the shape of the trees when they are young helps to ensure a beautiful shape as they age.
When young trees are ready to be transplanted, the Park Services team uses a special tool called a tree spade to dig out the tree and its root package. The root package is wrapped in burlap, to hold it together and protect it during transport, which is then peeled back when planted. Regular watering a few times a week is critical for the young trees in their first few weeks, as it helps their roots to spread and get established in the new location.
Residents that walk the trail along the perimeter of Community Park West will see the nursery as they pass along the tollway. For an up-close view, residents can play the disc golf course, which has a basket hole located within the nursery for a unique and interesting backdrop.
If there were ever an industry which gave Glenview an identity, it would be the nursery business. Undoubtedly, this love for growing things has
contributed to the beauty that characterizes Glenview today and to the quality of its parks. The Park District is proud to continue Glenview’s rich history and legacy through our very own nursery!
Glenview History in Trees
Want to learn about all of the historical nursery sites in Glenview and Glenview’s historic trees? In 1999, the Glenview Park District partnered with many local organizations to create an informational brochure about our town’s history with trees.