Mission, Vision, and History

Friendship Botanic Gardens (a volunteer-based, not-for-profit organization) is a community treasure and an oasis of formal gardens and wooded nature trails tucked in an old-growth forest surrounding Trail Creek in Michigan City, Indiana. Our 2019 season will certainly be one to remember. We plan on having many educational activities, the return of our annual Gatsby event and the planting of new garden areas to explore!

We can't do this alone! We need individuals invested in the future of our community and in the Gardens to bring our vision to life.

Please join us and become an integral part of a legacy within our community. Help us continue to bloom and grow!


"To create a nature-filled sanctuary for all people, as we enrich our community through cultural, educational and social events."


"We seek to shape the future of our community by fostering stewardship of our unique natural environment."

Friendship Botanic Gardens is one of the most beautiful settings in Northwest Indiana/Southwest Michigan for weddings and special events! We also host a variety of programs throughout the year.

History of Friendship Botanic Gardens

ANN PATTERSON & MARY SMITHStill in the throes of the Great Depression, the Chicago World’s Fair (A Century of Progress International Exposition, 1933-34) was future oriented with science as its theme. It was a mixture of carnival, science exhibits, famous personages, and beautiful gardens strewn along the Lake Michigan coastline between 12th St. and 39th St.

Tucked in this array of attractions was a small garden originally dubbed ‘An Old Mill Garden.’ It was developed by the three Stauffer brothers, Virgil, Joe, and Clarence from Wakarusa, Indiana, who had a nursery in Hammond, Indiana. The garden concept was changed to become the International Friendship Gardens.

Among the visitors to the Fair were Dr. and Mrs. Frank Warren, developers of Potawattomie Park, and Warren Clinic in Michigan City, Indiana (about an hour’s drive east of Chicago). They were so impressed with the garden and theme, “Peace and Friendship To All Nations" that they made an offer of a site near their home if the brothers would consent to create an International Friendship Garden at that site.

Captured 2005-8-19 00013The brothers were a gifted trio who grew up on a farm. Virgil was an opera singer; Joe, an engineer, and Clarence was a banker, developer, and inventor. They accepted the offer to come to Michigan City.

In 1936, International Friendship Gardens opened to the public. Consisting of fourteen ethnic gardens, the Symphony Theater and the unique Theater of Nations.

The Theater built on an island with natural seating for an audience on an adjacent hillside and was the scene of ballet, drama, and concerts, which brought thousands each week to enjoy “music under the stars.“

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands donated 200,000 tulips. The King of England sent plants and a Royal Gardener to make an English Garden. The King of Persia sent roses for the first Rose Garden. Other governments responded with seeds, plants, and statuary. A Peace Bell ended its travel to each State following WW II, and other bells donated locally can be seen or heard on the grounds.

010545356091fff8.JPGThe mission of the International Friendship Gardens struck a responsive chord in the world as well as in local leaders; kings and presidents have visited the Gardens.

From 1945 to the early 1960’s, the 106 acres constituted an unsurpassed visual treat with Trail Creek winding through it and Lake Lucerne, with the island Theater of Nations, and its many floral and arboreal displays as well as its varied terrain.

Virgil and Joe died in 1956. Their sister, Sadie Ehret, assumed the operations of the Gardens until her death in the early 1960’s. Clarence and his wife, Frances, returned and continued the brother’s dream.

Mrs. Jean Houck, an avid lover of nature and a community activist, became assistant to Clarence in 1970. In 1986, Clarence died at the age of 100. He asked Jean and her husband, Richard, to continue the Gardens and restore them. By then, the Gardens were neglected and overgrown, and in a sad state of decline.

It was through the determination of Mrs. Houck that a Board of Directors was formed. The Gardens attracted volunteers who shared her passion to keep the Gardens open to the public. It was in the mid-nineties that the Board of Directors, who shared Mrs. Houck’s zeal, made a crucial decision to restore the Gardens to their original beauty.

This huge commitment and undertaking was considered by many residents second only to the lakeshore in importance. In 1995, the Gardens became a public non-profit organization. 

In 2002, the Gardens suffered two major arsons destroying the Alaskan Cabin (which contained historical works and statuary) and the Service Building, burning all tools and much machinery. The decision was made to go forward in continuing to maintain and develop the Gardens.

In 2014, a new Board Member, John Leinweber, began spearheading a serious plan to rejuvenate the Gardens and actively recruited 9 new Board Members to assist in these efforts. Through his leadership, the Gardens have had major capital improvements in the past 4 years.

In 2015, our name changed to Friendship Botanic Gardens. We are proud of our many achievements in the last four years as our new Board undertakes a major rejuvenation of the Gardens by working with local government, community businesses, and community leaders to make the Gardens a premier destination point once again and bring them back to their former brilliance. 

The Gardens currently host Wedding Ceremonies and Receptions, as well as a host of Educational Events, Musical and Artistic events including the Annual Lyric in the Gardens, and our annual Turkey Walk on Thanksgiving Day.

Friendship Botanic Gardens
2055 East U.S. Highway 12
P.O. Box 8834
Michigan City, IN 46361