Arboretum History

E.H. Taylor & Rockford Nursery employees, 1925


To maintain a living museum for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of all people.


This 155-acre site begins with landscape architect William Lincoln Taylor, who established the land as Rockford Nursery in 1910. Many of the rare trees on the site are a result of experimental plantings by Mr. Taylor.

The Klehm family bought the nursery in 1968 and maintained the land until 1985. Realizing its value, the Klehm family generously donated the land to the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District with the stipulation it be maintained as an arboretum.

Consulting arborists completed a professional inventory of the site in 1991. They concluded that Klehm Arboretum has an assortment of plant life unlike any other natural area in the United States. The combination of native plants and those from around the world provides a unique botanical resource for study. The site includes many unique species from throughout the United States that normally do not thrive in this region, plus the Midwest’s most vigorous evergreen collection.

In 1991, the Winnebago County Board and the Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden Board of Directors approved a master plan for site and building development, completed by consulting landscape and building architects.

The Arboretum launched a $2 million capital campaign for Phase I development in May of 1992. Plans for Phase I included a 13,500 square foot education center, demonstration gardens with plots for exhibiting new plant varieties and garden techniques, a special events garden with performance stage, and area for gatherings and musical performances.

In the spring of 1993, a 1-1/2 mile figure eight paved walking path was completed. Named in honor of the first corporate pacesetter donor, the CLARCOR Garden Pavilion was completed in February 1994.

The fall of 1994 saw the completion of the Member’s Garden and the dedication of the fountain.

In 1995, work began on the Nancy Olson Children’s Garden. Dedicated in October 1996, the garden is designed for kids to explore the wonders of nature.

Supporters celebrated ground breaking of the Botanical Education Center in August 1996. After more than 15 months of construction, the Botanical Society moved into its new home in December 1997. Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden opened on a full time, seven-day-a week basis in March of 1998.

In 2003 the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District and the Klehm Arboretum Board of Directors adopted a 10 year master plan for future development. This development includes new gardens, revitalizing existing gardens, increasing the diverse collections, and the addition of facilities to better meet the needs of visitors.