By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Aug 08, 2001 at 5:03 AM

Boerner Botanical Gardens, an internationally distinguished agricultural showplace and every plant lovers educational resource center, needs your help to unveil living pieces of its lost history.

The missing pieces to the Gardens' lost history are the many Works Project Administration and Civil Conservation Corps workers that played a major part in building the gardens. The CCC and WPA "boys" haven't been heard from since the making of the gardens and now the people at Boerner want to find them so that their story may be told and their role fully explored.

"Our history is an important part of who we are and will help tell our story," says Sharon Malenda, Executive Director of Friends of Boerner Botanical Gardens. "The many talents that the CCC boys and the WPA brought to this project made it possible for future generations to enjoy the beauty of the gardens."

The history of the Borner Botanical Gardens began 82 years ago with Charles B. Whitnall, who had a dream of developing the exquisite park that now bears his name.

When Whitnall was nearly 70 years old he met 28-year-old Alfred E Boerner, a landscape architect whose intention was to showcase a medley of plants and flowers for home owners, business beautification projects and industrial and municipal sites. His philosophy still guides the continuous progression of the gardens.

The election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the great depression played a major role in getting Boerner Botanical Gardens built. It wasn't until the federal government initiated the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Project Administration (WPA) that actual on-paper plans for the parks could come alive.

First, the CCC formed a camp in Whitnall Park under the direction and leadership of the U.S. Army. Two hundred men, ages 18-25, from Northern Illinois lived and worked from 1933-'38, turning farmland into a park by digging lakes, building roads and planting thousands of trees.

These dedicated and talented men lived in tents and huts before they built the dormitories and garages that housed them until the entire park was built.

Two years after the CCC arrived, the WPA boys -- also Northern Illinois men ages 18-25 -- appeared. They worked as artisans, craftsmen, sculptors and masons, building the garden house and walls, rock gardens and gazebos that make Boerner gardens what they are today.


"We're in the process of constructing a new Education and Visitor's Center," Malenda says. "We're trying to discover the history to complete the picture of the gardens. Both the CCC and WPA 'boys' gave birth to the beautification and physicality to the gardens. They were wonderful 'boys.'"

Malenda is asking for anyone who knows anything about the Civilian Conservation Corps and/or the Works Project Administration to please contact the Friends of Boerner Botanical Gardens.

"As the gardens have grown, it has been our dream to have this -- a past to share with our future. And with any information on these boys, it can come true.

"We would love to get a call from them or an e-mail. We want to connect with them somehow ... to collect from them more history. We're making ourselves open in anyway to get in touch with them."

For more information, please call Malenda at (414) 421-9555.