As you pass through Milwaukee on Highway 45, Miller Park is easily the most recognized structure. However off in the distance, it’s hard not to notice the 3 domes bubbling out of the trees and buildings. The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, or as they are more commonly refereed to, the Mitchell Park Domes, have a history in Milwaukee dating back to the late 1800’s.
The property where the domes are located was once the home of Alexander Mitchell. Mitchell was a prominent figure in Milwaukee. Wealth incurred from investments helped Mitchell and his family build their home as well as a conservatory. The conservatory stood at the front of the home and was filled with thousands of plants and flowers from around the world. Upon Mitchell’s death, the home was sold (it is now The Wisconsin Club) as were all the plants. The city bought the property and Mitchell Park became one of Milwaukee’s first County Parks in 1898.
By 1899, an initial greenhouse was built and opened for the public, likely to honor the park’s namesake. Plants from around the world were featured. The greenhouse was a great success, however Milwaukee was a growing city. In the early 50’s through the 60’s, the city took on several huge tasks. The Milwaukee Zoo, The Public Museum and County Stadium were just a few new attractions being built. By 1955, the greenhouse took a backseat to these new projects. Lack of maintenance resulted in the greenhouse being closed.
By 1959, plans for the greenhouse to be revised became a priority. Three domes were constructed. The first being complete in 1964.
The oldest dome is referred to as the Show Dome. This Dome features different themes throughout the year. Show displays can have cultural, literary or seasonal themes. depending on when you visit, you may see model trains chugging among the greenery, or a sea of red Poinsettias.
From June – September of 2017 the Show Dome’s feature is Ultra Violet – a display of all purple flowers and plants!
In 1966 the second dome was opened to the public. The Tropical Dome will whisk you away to a humid rain forest. Tropical fruits from on the looming trees. Bright flowers contrast the dark green leaves. Look closely and you may see some unique wildlife enjoying their habitat. Over sized snails leave slimy trails on giant leaves. Tiny birds dart through the enclosure.
The final dome, introduced in 1967 will take you into the desert. The Arid Dome features a large variety of cactus. Follow the winding path below the giant palm trees and enjoy the variety of vegetation from the deserts of North America and Africa.
Looking at the Domes from the outside, one would never guess how big they actually are on the inside. The area is 45,000 square feet. There is a lot to see and the stop in is a worthwhile one. However the fate of the was in question a few years back. Structural issues called for the Domes to be closed as a safety precaution. The Domes found themselves at the center of a debate in regards to their upkeep. Luckily, Milwaukee County was able to find some midterm solutions to open the dorms back to the public. Regardless of when you visit the dorms, you will not be disappointed.