The Citizens Committee was initially appointed by the Mayor and Council in 1926 to serve as the caretakers of the new iris garden to be planted at Mountainside Park with Barbara Walther being named as its first President and Curator of the collection – a voluntary job she performed for the next fifty years until her death in 1977. Its charge was to provide a garden the community could take pride in by displaying the newest irises to be introduced, provide horticulture education regarding the flower, and maintain records of the irises – museum standards which are still followed today.
The Citizens Committee was formally incorporated in March of 1963. There are three categories of membership: Regular; Associate; Life; and Honorary Life Members. In order to become a member, a member in good standing must nominate an interested candidate.
The Board of Trustees of the Citizens Committee is responsible for overall policy and fiscal operations of the garden.
Partnership with Essex County
2008 and 2009 were tumultuous years for this organization as the rising costs of operating the gardens combined with the negative economic impact on nonprofit organizations created a financial crisis. The difficult decision to sell Barbara Walther’s home that served as the base of our operations since 1977 was made by the Board of Trustees. Fortunately, our Essex County Executive stepped in and with the procurement of funding from Green Acres and the Essex County Open Space Trust Fund, bought the property stabilizing our finances. The County allowed our organization to become ‘tenants’ with no interruption in operations, but the Citizens Committee continues to fund the operations of the iris gardens. This new collaboration virtually saved the gardens from being disbanded. The Presby Memorial Iris Gardens became the 20th park in the Essex County park system and was renamed, The Essex County Presby Memorial Iris Gardens.