Botany Pond has a long-standing history at the University of Chicago. During the early 1890s, the newly established University hired Henry Ives Cobb, a highly respected architect, to create an original plan for the campus. The scheme called for stately English Gothic structures to be arranged around a series of quadrangles. One of the earliest quadrangles to be completed was the Hull Court Biology Quadrangle, which was completed in 1897. The Botany Building (Erman Hall) frames the east end of the quadrangle and has housed the offices and some of the research and teaching laboratories of the department.
In 1902, the Olmsted Brothers were commissioned for the campus master plan with a focus on the landscape. At that time, Professor John Merle Coulter, a renowned botanist, wanted to create a “biologic pond” in Hull Court adjacent to the Botany building. He envisioned the pond as an outdoor research laboratory for botany students and the lushly planted landscape would greatly enhance the charm of Hull Court for the entire University community. Coulter collaborated with the Olmsted Brothers on the design of Botany Pond, which was constructed in 1903.
The original design of Botany Pond featured an extensive plant list with over 400 plant species selected by Coulter. This full list was never fully realized as the original installation was fairly minimal in its plant diversity but then more plants were added over the years immediately following the original construction. In subsequent years, and after modern biological science laboratories were built elsewhere on campus, the role of Botany Pond as an outdoor research laboratory and classroom was no longer a necessity, and the extensive plant palette (though never near 400 species) diminished. In 2004, Botany Pond was renovated to its former lush garden environment. During the renovation, the aralias found at the edge of the Hull Gate fence adjacent to the pond were found to be of a very rare variety. These aralias, which are not typically available from nurseries, are likely the legacy of John Coulter, whose extensive private plant collection and herbarium were virtually unrivaled at the turn of the 19th Century.
Botany Pond was experiencing multiple challenges including leaks and water quality issues. This project will restore Botany Pond to a thriving asset that brings together flora, fauna, and human visitors in harmony. This project will comprise of two distinct phases: Phase 1) Botany Pond Restoration Enabling Phase and Phase 2) Botany Pond Restoration Construction Phase. The first phase of the project is complete and includes safely removing and relocating wildlife present at the pond, draining the water, removing the sediment, cleaning the pond walls and base, assessing the pond structure, and developing restoration recommendations. Phase Two is now underway, and includes repairs to the pond base and walls, major structural reinforcement for the bridge, a new biological filtration system, improved pedestrian access and gathering spaces, enhanced wildlife habitat, and new aquatic and landscape plantings. The second phase of the project is scheduled for construction through Winter of 2024 with plantings complete in Summer of 2024. Wildlife removed from the pond during construction will return once restoration is complete, along with the addition of native fish and aquatic species appropriate for the pond. The introduction of new and returning pond wildlife will be carefully phased through 2025 in order to establish and maintain a thriving pond ecosystem.
Botany Pond has become one of the most recognizable and cherished destinations on campus. This project will restore the pond and surrounding area to create a space for all University students, faculty, staff, visitors, and wildlife to enjoy.
For questions, please contact Lindsay Taylor Haskins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheryl Beste and Sandy Banks
Q: Will the wildlife currently at Botany Pond be returned to the pond at the end of the project?
A: Yes, the wildlife rehabilitators are safely removing wildlife from the pond before the start of construction, and will bring them back upon completion of the restoration work.
Q: Will pedestrian traffic around Botany Pond be impacted?
A: Main pedestrian thoroughfares north, south, and west of the Botany Pond area will remain open to pedestrian traffic to accommodate access to and through nearby spaces.