Drive through the stone entrance gates to Haverford College and you’re in another world. Trees line the roadways; open lawns stretch out before you. A perimeter of woods circles the 216-acre campus. This, the oldest planned college landscape in the country, marked its 180th anniversary in 2014.
English Gardener William Carvill
In the early 19th century, several sites were considered for the establishment of a school near Philadelphia for the advanced education of young Quaker gentlemen. Eventually, a 198.5 acre farm in Haverford was purchased for $17,865 and a single building, Founders Hall erected. Students arrived in the fall of 1833.
A committee charged with laying out a "lawn" in what had been farmland then hired the English gardener William Carvill, who arrived in 1834. During his 11 years at Haverford, Carvill was to leave his mark not only on the landscape but in athletics, introducing the game of cricket to this side of the Atlantic.
Carvill relied on what he knew, the informal English landscape tradition of Sir Humphry Repton (1752 to 1818) and designed open spaces visible from the high ground of Founders Hall. Trees framed these spaces, edging lanes and accenting corners. Other trees, planted in circles of five and seven, dotted the rolling landscape to the northeast. Finally, a serpentine walk lined with trees and shrubs led away from Founders Hall in the opposite direction toward a farmhouse known today as Woodside Cottage.
While the last vestige of the somewhat claustrophobic, overly planted serpentine walk disappeared nearly 100 years ago, the open views from Founders Hall, clusters of trees on today's Barclay Beach, and tree-lined roads outlining green areas still remain.
What also remains are several trees Carvill planted including the Bur oak, Quercus macrocarpa, by Magill Library and a Swamp white oak, Quercus bicolor, in front of Roberts Hall.
Carvill arch looking toward the observatory, 1886.
While appreciation of Haverford's landscape undoubtedly existed for decades, it was not until a devastating ice storm on February 21, 1902 nearly wiped out the maple allée along College Lane that a group of supporters organized to replace aging trees, remove dead ones, and maintain features of Carvill's plan, by then threatened with an expanding campus of new buildings and roads.
The Campus Club, open to students, faculty, alumni, and friends of the college, was officially organized with four objectives: improvement and preservation of the "College Lawn," cataloguing of the rare trees and shrubs, stimulation of an interest in ornithology by the attraction and observation of birds, and, "especially the provocation of an interest in Forestry in general."
Penn Treaty Elm
C. Cresson Wistar, Class of 1865, donated seven American elm grafts that were planted in a circle on Barclay Beach in 1915, his 50th reunion year. Each was a descendant of the Penn Treaty Elm, the tree under which William Penn signed his historic treaty with Native Americans. Though six fell victim over the years to Dutch elm disease, one majestic tree from the original seven still dominates the lawn.
Edward Woolman, Class of 1893, financially supported many Campus Club projects for nearly a half-century. He created a bird sanctuary on the border of the campus by cleaning up debris and planting trees and shrubs attractive to wildlife. Work continued throughout the years and gradually a 2.2-mile Nature Trail took shape, including today's cherry-lined Woolman Walk near the Observatory
The Duck Pond, long a popular skating venue in winter but only a swampy area in summer, became a permanent campus fixture under the direction of the Campus Club, in particular, Dan Smiley, Jr., Class of 1930. Also, plans to erect a handsome skate house were debated for years, delayed by World War II, and finally realized in 1949.
In the post-war years, as original Campus Club founders died, support waned until John A. Silver, Class of 1925, rekindled interest in planting and caring for the landscape. What is today known as the Haverford College Arboretum Association was established in 1974. Soon Nancy and Dick Ryan stepped forward to inventory and then label the maturing collection of conifers planted as seedlings in 1928 along Haverford Road. In appreciation, this 18-acre area was dedicated as the Ryan Pinetum in 1992.
Two additional gardens were designed adjoining the Dining Center when memorial gifts made it possible to create the Gertrude C. Teaf Garden (dedicated in 1990) and the Denis Asian Garden (dedicated in 2004.)
As the Haverford College Arboretum entered a new century, horticultural practices saw a shift in landscaping away from exotics to plants more native to the region. Expanded use of the campus landscape both by the Haverford community and neighboring residents has brought an educational opportunity to focus on the College’s natural woodlands and the use of native species to support wildlife. A meadow has been established in the center of the Pinetum, the planting of an understory of native trees and shrubs in mature woods is now underway, and specific gardens of native plants within the central campus area have all been made possible because of Haverford College Arboretum Association members.