The Holden Arboretum was started in 1931 with a bequest from Albert Fairchild Holden.
The arboretum was born out of Holden's desire to create a memorial for his oldest daughter, Elizabeth Davis Holden, who died of scarlet fever in 1908 at the age of 12. At first, he considered making Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum his beneficiary. His sister, Roberta Holden Bole, convinced him to create an arboretum for Cleveland as a place where students and adults could learn the basics of horticulture.
When he died in 1913, at age 46, Mr. Holden left a trust agreement in which he provided that funds be designated for an arboretum after a life interest was realized for his two surviving daughters, Emery May and Katharine Davis. Fortunately, Albert Fairchild Holden's vision caught the imagination of his family and others, who realized that an arboretum was a long-term project and should be started as soon as possible.
After a study of possible sites, Roberta Holden Bole and her husband, Benjamin P. Bole, donated 100 acres in Kirtland Township. In 1931 the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas approved establishment of The Holden Arboretum.
The Holden Arboretum indeed took root. Trees were planted, collections established, and programs begun. Mr. Holden's daughters contributed an active interest and generous support.
Many others have given land and operating funds vital to The Holden Arboretum's growth. In particular, Warren H. and Maud Corning helped facilitate land purchases, provided leadership for the fledgling arboretum and donated the Corning Collection of Horticultural Classics to Holden. Their former home, Lantern Court, is now part of Holden and serves as a site for educational programs, garden tours and other activities. Corning served as the first unpaid “executive administrator” and would serve in that capacity until 1958.
In 1958, R. Henry Norweb Jr., Albert Holden’s grandson, succeeded Corning. Holden’s first paid director, Norweb would lead the organization until his retirement in 1983. Under his direction, land continued to be acquired, facilities and features aimed at attracting and serving the public were added, collections grew and long-term planning began in earnest for the day when the Holden Trust would be available. Norweb's successors include C. W. Eliot Paine, 1983-1995; Richard H. Munson, 1995-2000; Elaine Price, 2001-2007; and current President and CEO Clement Hamilton, who started his tenure in 2008.
In December 1988, 75 years after Albert Fairchild Holden's original bequest and 57 years after Holden's establishment, the Holden Trust began to benefit Holden as he and so many others had envisioned. His permanent endowment, together with the gifts of other contributors and supporters, make possible the development of a truly first-class arboretum.
In 2011, The Holden Arboretum celebrated 80 years as part of the the Northeastern Ohio community, serving as as a destination for visitors seeking to find their place in nature, as a resource for professional and home landscapers, and as a partner in the education for the region.