Tower Hill has a long history with deep roots in central Massachusetts. We are owned and operated by the Worcester County Horticultural Society, established in 1842. This makes the Society one of the oldest active horticultural society in the United States.
The Society was very active in Worcester for more than 100 years, sponsoring plant and produce shows with an emphasis as much on agricultural as flowers. In 1851, the Society’s first headquarters was built in downtown Worcester and weekly summer shows highlighted the produce and gardens of the thriving agricultural community. The crops were so robust and varied that in 1855 one exhibitor alone showed more than 200 varieties of pears! The Society itself continued to grow and by 1867, the annual exhibition had to be moved. By 1928, the Society had outgrown its Front Street property, so land was purchased to build a new headquarters, Horticultural Hall, at 30 Elm Street in Worcester.
Horticultural Hall in Worcester
During the 1940s, as agriculture shifted and the large 19th and early 20th century country estate gardeners that had supported exhibitions dwindled, exhibitions themselves decreased. In 1983 the Society turned its sights toward cultivating gardens. In 1986, the Society set its focus on creating a botanic garden at Tower Hill Farm in Boylston.
Farmhouse circa 1986.
The original pumphouse, now used as a garden shed.
The land was purchased from the Carter family. It came with an early 18th-century farmhouse, barn and outbuildings. The Farmhouse was originally located closer to what is now Route 70; it was moved to its current location many years ago. Aside from a small pumphouse now located in the Vegetable Garden, the Farmhouse is the only original farm building remaining, and it houses administrative offices. While there is no proof of agricultural use prior to the 20th-century, aside from the remaining stone walls that crisscross the property, it’s very likely it was farmed for generations. The earliest deed we have discovered dates to 1718. By the 1940s, the Carter’s dairy farm was known as “Tower Hill Farm.” Tower Hill itself was given that name in the late 19th century during the surveying work to complete the Wachusett Reservoir.
After its purchase of the farm, the Society set to work with Environmental Planning and Design of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to produce a 50-year Master Plan for the garden, which would guide its development in the years to come. Tower Hill continues to do more that salute its agrarian history. We preserve 119 cultivars of pre-20th century apples, known as The Davenport Collection; provide programs to support home gardeners; and maintain a thriving vegetable garden. As of 2018, Tower Hill Botanic Garden includes 171 acres of woodland trails, formal gardens, and educational facilities.