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Montgomery's History




Colonel Robert H. Montgomery was one of the founding partners of the accounting firm, Lybrand, Ross Bros. & Montgomery—known today as PricewaterhouseCoopers. He wrote more than 40 books about accounting practice and tax law. In addition to being a lawyer, accountant, and book collector, Colonel Montgomery was a lover of plants. In 1936, he founded Fairchild Tropical Garden (FTG), just 1 mile north in Coral Gables. He and his wife, Nell, donated the 83-acre tract of land as well as money for developing the plant collections. On May 2, 1953, while napping in his Florida home, 80-year-old Robert Montgomery died. He and Nell had just completed their daily stroll through the Coconut Grove Palmetum.
Upon Robert’s death in 1953, his wife, Eleanor “Nell,” inherited the Coconut Grove Palmetum. Nell wanted to perpetuate her late husband’s name in association with the plant collections and the estate. She also desired to provide a site for research investigations on the collections. With these goals in mind, she created The Montgomery Foundation, Inc., on November 20, 1959, as a private, non-profit, operating institution devoted to advancing the science of tropical botany by building research-oriented plant collections. In 1998, the name was changed to the Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC).

For over 30 years, Nell committed her life to the development and growth of MBC and FTG. Upon her death on June 4, 1990, she left the balance of her estate and an endowment to maintain the property to MBC.
Since Nell’s death in 1990, MBC directors and staff have worked to secure and promote Nell’s vision. As part of the transition, a long-term Master Site Plan was developed in 1992 by the internationally recognized firm of Sasaki Associates, Inc. This Plan, which is strategically divided into five phases, was designed so that expansion of the plant collections could proceed in a systematic and aesthetically pleasing way. According to the Plan, the 120-acre property is delineated into four geographic areas: the Coconut Grove Palmetum, the South Palmetum, the Lowland Palmetum, and Research. The Research area contains research laboratories, the Montgomery Library, a herbarium, and nursery facilities operated by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (FTBG) on eight acres leased by the Center to the Garden.

An overview of the history of Robert and Nell Montgomery in Florida, as well as the property from 1932 to 1997, was superbly documented in The Montgomery Story by Bert Zuckerman. This 1997 volume is available for purchase from MBC.

The Montgomery Archive

The Montgomery Archive documents the lives of Robert and Nell Montgomery in Florida as well as the history of MBC since its founding in 1959. The Montgomery Archive is open by appointment.

A 1930's aerial view of the Coconut Grove Palmetum. The large building in the foreground was the Montgomery home, now called Nell’s House.

A 1994 aerial view of the same area shown in the photograph above. Nell’s House now contains the Montgomery Archive and the offices for MBC’s Administration and Collections Development Departments.

In 1932, Robert Montgomery began planting a Royal Palm Colonnade along the main driveway to his home. The Colonnade was the only formal landscape element in the landscape design for the property.

Robert and Nell Montgomery in 1939 enjoying fruits from their palm collection.

The first to receive the Thomas Barbour Medal in 1948 was Col. Robert Montgomery (second from right). Later recipients of the Medal included, from left to right, H. M. Loomis, Wilson Popenoe, and David Fairchild.

Robert Montgomery (on the right), Nell, and David Fairchild during the unveiling in 1939 of the Spicer-Simpson designed Medallion Medal of Robert Montgomery.  The Robert H. Montgomery Founders Medal is awarded to individuals based on distinguished achievement in the world of palms and cycads.  Dr. Harold E. Moore Jr. was the first recipient of the medal.

Nell Montgomery (1905-1990) and Robert H. Montgomery (1872-1953) in the 1940s standing in the main vista of the Coconut Grove Palmetum, Coral Gables, Florida. The vista was designed by William Lyman Phillips. The Montgomery home is in the background.

Nell and Robert Montgomery on the patio of their home.

From left to right are David Fairchild, Nell Montgomery, Marion Fairchild, and Robert Montgomery in MBC’s Lowland Palmetum in 1938.

The 1956 wedding reception of Nell and Alvin Jennings (right). At that time, Alvin Jennings was a managing partner in Lybrand, Ross Bros. & Montgomery. Nell’s parents, Isabel and Mac Foster, are on the left.

Dr. Arthur Montgomery (1909–1999) in the 1960s. Dr. Montgomery was the son of Robert Montgomery and was one of the original five founders of the Montgomery Botanical Center. He served as Director and Vice President for the organization from its inception to 1999. Dr. Montgomery, a well known mineralogist, was instrumental in creating and funding the Montgomery Research Fellowship Program and financed numerous research-associated positions for palm and cycad scientists.


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11901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, FL 33156
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