Archives of Appalachia

A Unit of the Center for Appalachian Studies & Services at East Tennessee State University

ETSU’s Arboretum Roots

In case you missed this piece of news about ETSU’s newest Arboretum additions, take a look:

ETSU receives gift of two American Chestnut trees as part of a national restoration project

“East Tennessee State University has been given two Restoration American Chestnut trees by the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). The trees will be planted during a brief ceremony on Friday, July 13, at 8:15 a.m. on a slope behind Lamb and Hutchison halls. The trees will be part of the campus-wide ETSU Arboretum.

The American Chestnut was a major component of Appalachian forests before being destroyed by a fungal blight in the first half of the 20th century.

Over the past 26 years, TACF, with headquarters in Abingdon, Va., has gradually developed a Restoration American Chestnut with 15/16 of the genetic makeup of the American Chestnut and the blight-resistant characteristics of the Chinese Chestnut. Their Restoration Chestnut has been planted in research plots by the U.S. Forest Service throughout the Appalachian Mountains.

The gift was solicited by Richard Rollins, an ETSU doctoral candidate. While he was a science teacher at University High, he assisted a student whose Boy Scouts of America® Eagle Scout project involved planting 25 chestnut trees of several hybrid varieties from TACF in University Woods.”

Many thanks to Richard Rollins!

Although the current ETSU Arboretum was dedicated in 2002, plans for an arboretum began as early as 1939. The records of former university president Charles C. Sherrod show that in 1939, East Tennessee State Teachers College (former name of East Tennessee State University) and Sherrod were drawing up plans for an arboretum in response to calls for conservation of America’s natural resources.

Conservation concerns had existed in the United States for quite some time. President Ulysses S. Grant passed the law establishing America’s first national park in 1872. (Any guesses? See comments section for answer.) President Theodore Roosevelt, who held the office from 1901-1909, pushed for massive conservation across the country. Nature activists, such as Dallas Lore Sharp, wrote emotional pleas to stir efforts.In February 1925, Sharp published an article in Nature Magazine where he pleaded for people to take up conservation as a serious issue and to push their legislators in Washington to preserve the environment. For Sharp, while some conservation efforts had been successful, they were not enough. He believed that efforts should not just be at the national level, but that they should take place in towns and schools across the country.

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared March 19-25 as “Conservation Week” and Tennessee’s Governor Prentice Cooper backed Roosevelt’s designation. Just a few weeks later in April 1939, Sharp’s article for Nature Magazine made it to Sherrod’s desk as part of the curriculum for the course, ‘Elementary Science 103’. (Students were asked to compare Sharp’s ideas with the college’s proposed arboretum.)

These conservation concerns and ideas resonated with East Tennessee State Teachers College. “Only a few weeks” after President Roosevelt’s “Conservation Week” had passed, plans were drawn up to establish or reaffirm the need for an arboretum which would expand upon the “eight-one varieties of trees and several hundred varieties of shrubs and flowering plants” that already existed on campus. Also included in the plan was the possibility of harboring animals in the so called “laboratory.”

The initial plans acknowledged that ten acres located “immediately south of the girls’ dormitory and the president’s residence” had already been set aside for many years as an arboretum. Now, the college wanted to make this space more secure and guard against the “destructive forces of man and animals.” The land could remain as an “out-door laboratory” for educational purposes, but was to be “properly enclosed against the public.” Such a space was considered “indispensable to a successful college program.”

By the time the arboretum plans hit the newspapers, the plans and terminology had been tweaked. Instead of an arboretum or laboratory, the space was termed a sanctuary. The 15-acre sanctuary was designed to maintain “primeval conditions as nearly as possible, producing in miniature conditions which exist in national parks throughout the United States.”  Likewise, East Tennessee State Teachers College indicated the sanctuary should be considered along that of other university efforts at Cornell University, Clemson University, and the State Teachers College in Trenton, New Jersey.

As for animals?  Well, the space was decreed a “quail haven.”

Today, ETSU’s Arboretum is campus-wide. Visitors can take part in walking tours and enjoy the beautiful trees. To find out more about the current arboretum, click here.

What happened between the early plans for an arboretum in the late 1930s and the dedication of the current arboretum in 2002 is a bit uncertain. If anyone has information they would like to share about this part of ETSU’s past, please do.

Interested in the arboretum plans from 1939? Take a look below!

Additional documentation for this post came from the Sherrod Collection which included photocopies of a newsclipping (undated, no newspaper title) for the article “Teachers College Sets Aside 15 Acres of Campus for Wildlife Sanctuary” and a curriculum assignment containing Dallas Lore Sharp’s Nature Magazine article for the course ‘Elementary Science 103’, dated April 13, 1939.

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About Laura Smith

I'm the Education & Outreach Archivist for the Archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University. Please contact me if you have any questions about the collections or visiting the Archives.

2 comments on “ETSU’s Arboretum Roots

  1. smithle1
    July 17, 2012

    The first national park was Yellowstone!

  2. jacowart
    July 18, 2012

    I believe I read in the Jessie A. Ackermann Collection that when she lived in Johnson City in the mid-1920s and early 1930s she gave trees to the campus on Arbor Day and helped plant them. I wonder if any of the trees still exist?

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This entry was posted on July 17, 2012 by in 20th Century, ETSU History, From Our Collection, Science.
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