The arboretum dates back to 1852, when Henry Cope purchased the property. The grounds were laid out in the English landscape tradition, with advice from noted landscape architect William Saunders. A number of houses were constructed on the property; all are now privately owned with the exception of the Francis Cope House (1860) which is now the Arboretum headquarters. The Cope family formally established the arboretum in 1916; it became a nonprofit organization in 1984.
The arboretum is laid out as a series of open spaces, with clusters of trees and shrubs framing long vistas. Among its many mature trees, the arboretum contains a State Champion River Birch (Betula nigra), and notable specimens of American Linden (Tilia americana), American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), and Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera).
Other trees in the collection include Acer rubrum, Amelanchier canadensis, Carpinus caroliniana, Chionanthus virginicus, Cornus alternifolia, Cornus amomum, Cornus florida, Corylus americana, Fraxinus americana, Fraxinus pennsylvanica, Liriodendron tulipifera, Nyssa sylvatica, Prunus serotina, Quercus alba, Q. palustris, Q. prinus, and Q. rubra. Shrubs include Aronia arbutifolia, Aronia melanocarpa, Lindera benzoin, Viburnum dentatum, and Viburnum prunifolium.