The story of the Davidson College arboretum begins in 1855, when “a few ladies of Davidson College” proposed landscape remodeling in a letter to the Board of Trustees. Their effort did not meet with much success but a few years later, students took matters in their own hands by organizing tree plantings. William Dickey reported in a March 8, 1861 letter, that “All hands were turned loose this morning to plant trees. The ambition to perpetuate their names here was universal and all the students worked faithfully. The senior class not only plants trees for themselves but for their sweethearts. They plant[ed] 22 trees.” In 1869, the faculty sent a proposal to the Board of Trustees, “to make the Campus in its contents represent in time the forest growth of the State, and, if possible, the general botany of the region.” In the years since, an implicit if not stated goal of the school’s grounds supervisors and landscape architects became populating the college’s campus with all sorts of exotic as well as indigenous fauna. Even future president Woodrow Wilson is rumored to have planted a tree during his time as a student at Davidson, bringing “from the woods a tree and plant[ing] it properly” (Shaw 143).
In 1982 Dr. Henry M. Cathey, a former Davidson student serving as Director of the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., suggested to Davidson College President Samuel R. Spencer, Jr. that the college take the steps necessary to become a national registered arboretum. Cathey’s suggestion came around the same time as a generous gift to the college from the family of Edwin Douglass, who had previously said that his two loves in life were Davidson College and forestry. President Spencer subsequently assigned Mr. Douglass’s funds to the arboretum project. Aerial surveys were made, trees catalogued, gardens mapped, and in 1986 Davidson announced itself as a full-fledged arboretum, complete with a detailed booklet with sketches.
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