At the direction of one of Sonnenberg’s original owners, Mary Clark Thompson, the Sonnenberg greenhouse complex was designed by the American company Lord & Burnham in 1903. Lord & Burnham, founded in Buffalo in 1849, has been in continuous greenhouse production since that time. The company used cypress wood and iron or steel in early greenhouses like the one at Sonnenberg and did not begin to use aluminum until 1932.
The 13,000 square foot greenhouse complex was designed to form a hollow square with potting sheds in the center. Year-round, the greenhouse produced fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers for Mrs. Thompson at Sonnenberg as well as her New York City home.
Each section of the greenhouse was used for a different purpose and the names given to those sections indicate the purpose or items grown there. Those greenhouse areas include: the Palm House (the central domed conservatory), Chrysanthemum House, Peach and Nectarine House, Orchid House, Grapery, Violet Pit, Vegetable Pit, Mushroom Cellar, Melon Houses, Rose House, Carnation House, Propagation House, and the East and West Display Houses. The basement featured boilers for heat, a coal pocket, and a storeroom for cut flowers.
All of the original complex still stands today except the Vegetable Pit and Violet Pit which were both demolished in 1959. Unlike many such structures, this historic greenhouse is not only a working greenhouse used to display horticultural collections and grow the many thousands of annual and perennial plants used throughout the gardens every year, this complex also still maintains all of its original frame and
climate control parts.
The Sonnenberg greenhouse is one of the great treasures of the region and has seen tens of thousands of visitors each year since Sonnenberg first became a public park in 1973.
This 100-year old structure of wood, metal, and glass obviously needs specialized care and restoration. Sonnenberg’s non-profit organization has been actively working to raise funds for the needed restoration work.
In 2015, Sonnenberg received, as part of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council’s grant, $70,000 towards the restoration of the Palm House’s dome plus a total of $45,000 from the Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Davenport-Hatch Foundation. Sonnenberg is working to raise the additional $45,000 needed to begin the restoration work.
2016 Update: Work has begun on conservation of the Palm House, the central conservatory portion of the complex. See updates on our Greenhouse page. Funds are still needed to finish the rest of the complex so please consider donating to make the rest of the preservation work possible.