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UT Arboretum Society History

The Arboretum Society History was first published in the following journal


University of Tennessee Arboretum Society
Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830

The following is a brief history of the University of Tennessee Arboretum Society from its inception through January, 1980, with some mention of the individuals who were instrumental in its development.


The ideas of an arboretum for Oak Ridge existed in the minds of several people long before it became a reality. One such person was Alexander Hollaender of the Biology Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory. As early as 1948 when Hollaender, Charles Congdon, Don Foard, and others hiked in the Cumberlands on Sunday mornings, they discussed the possibility of an arboretum for Oak Ridge where hiking and a scientific study of plants could be combined. The Biology Foundation had some money received from fees for consultation and lecturing and Hollaender hoped to interest the University of Tennessee in supplementing this money and establishing an arboretum. The Biology Division, however, did not involve itself in an arboretum and the Biology Foundation money was not used toward the purchase of land. But an effort had been made and the idea of an arboretum had crystallized.

At about this time, another group working on the same idea was composed of University of Tennessee officials. Subsequently in August, 1961, the specific basis for action occurred when the University acquired 2,264 acres of forested land near Oak Ridge from the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare for use in teaching, research and demonstration. The site on which an arboretum was to become established was accurately described in an early brochure published by UT before the Arboretum was opened to the public. It says, in part ... "Prior to the early 1940's ... the area was heavily farmed. Virginia Pine and Shortleaf Pine now cover most of the old fields, but Yellow Poplar and some Black Walnut are found on sites in these fields where the soil is better. The rest of the Arboretum is largely second-growth Oak and Hickory forest in what was originally Oak and Chestnut forest".


Old Homestead FIG. 1. Old homestead once located in the present Magnolia breeding orchard area.

In April 1962 a committee from the University met for the purpose of establishing an arboretum; at that time a recommendation was made by A. J. Sharp that the committee request a portion of the University of Tennessee Oak Ridge property to be designated for arboretum use. Committee members B. S. Pickett, Royal Shanks, Nathan Hall, Walter Herndon, J. S. Kirby-Smith, Evvind Thor, and Merrill Bird unanimously approved Sharp's recommendation. Accordingly, in December 1962 a proposal for development of an arboretum was forwarded to John Ewing, Dean of the UT Agricultural Experiment Station. The proposal outlined certain objectives ". . . To establish a collection of woody plants adapted to the climate of Tennessee . . . to utilize and expand existing plant groups and preserve such areas as have special values for ecologic study . . . to provide space for a collection of mutants of woody plants . . . Development of the arboretum should be in the hands of one individual directly responsible to the Director of the Experiment Station. A satisfactory office, laboratory and assembly building with the necessary herbarium space and library should be erected . . ."

So, the idea of an arboretum did actually become fact, as noted in The Oak Ridger of April 1964, "The UT Forestry Department has started work on an Arboretum, a place where trees and shrubs are grown for scientific and educational purposes." At this time the UT Forestry Department expanded from a two-year to a four-year program and John Barrett became head of Forestry. Robert MacDonald, assistant professor in Forestry, became Arboretum Director. His first office was an abandoned guardhouse near Solway Bridge.

Now that the Arboretum was a reality, the time was right for an arboretum society in the community, a friends-of-the arboretum group similar to the groups supporting other arboreta in this country.

In February 1965 efforts were underway to form an active, non-profit organization for the purpose of furthering the development of an arboretum. At the suggestion of Bob MacDonald, Director, a committee was formed to set up such an organization. A meeting for this purpose was held on February 27, 1965. Acting as coordinator was Alexander Nowicki, City Planner for Oak Ridge. Those in attendance were: Evan Means, Clinch-Powell Valley Association; F. R. Bruce and H. D. Smith, Boy Scouts; David Campbell, Anderson County Conservation Board; B. M. Robinson, AEC; Robert P. Ball, Oak Ridge Memorial Park; Eleanor DuBois, Helen K. Lewis, Julia Moore, members, and C. M. DuBois, President of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club; Ruth Davis, Oak Ridge Garden Clubs and Girl Scouts; L. R. Phillips, Kiwanis; Julia Hoppe, Campfire Girls; John Clark, Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce; A. R. Nowicki, City Planner; A. A. Foster, Grace Foster, John Selfridge, and J. D. Amundson, interested citizen. UT personnel in attendance were: B. S. Pickett, Horticulture Department; E. E. C. Clebsch and H. R. DeSelm, Botany Department; Robert MacDonald, Forestry Department. A. R. Nowicki was appointed temporary chairman; Evan Means, temporary secretary.


At the next meeting, March 20, 1965, the purpose and goals of an arboretum society were discussed. The Society was to be named the University of Tennessee Arboretum Society (UTAS); proposed goals were to be the following: Publication of an Arboretum Bulletin; establishment of undergraduate scholarship funds; establishment of graduate assistantships; organization of work and/or study groups to develop certain areas of the Arboretum; fundraising; information service. Eugene Joyce was appointed chairman of charter and by-laws; Don McKay, nominating chairman; and A. R. Nowicki, promotional chairman.

A meeting was held on April 20, 1965, to receive the charter of incorporation as a non-profit organization and to elect officers. Those elected to office were: Alex Nowicki, President; Charles Mahoney, Vice-president; Eleanor DuBois, Secretary; George Gerhart, Treasurer. Recognition was taken of the Society's primary purpose for which specific actions and goals had already been established, namely: to promote interest and participation in the study and enjoyment of trees, shrubs, and other plants. Membership at this time was eighty people. A complete list of Arboretum officers from 1965 through the present is found in Table 1 in the Appendix.

The beginning years of UTAS in 1965-66 were active ones. The Society began many programs which have continued to the present time. In March 1966 a Newsletter was sent to the membership; the first of twenty-two subsequent Newsletters designed to keep each member informed of UTAS activities. It carried news of the first general meeting, open to the public, which was followed by guided tours of the Arboretum. Over two hundred eighty five people came. Another program was begun when the first of thirteen Bulletins was published and sent to the members in the summer of 1965. The first Plant Sale was held on June 18, 1966, as a fund-raising project. The Plant Sale funds were to become the means of financing the summer student employment program. In 1966, David Rugh, a Maryville College student, became the first of ten students who have participated in this program.

The period of 1965-66 brought many encouraging developments at the Arboretum. Better office space than the guardhouse became available when Robert Ball, UTAS Trustee and a stockholder in the Memorial Park Cemetery, offered temporary use of half of the cemetery building; a 1955 half-ton pickup truck was bought with UTAS funds; plant materials valued at over a thousand dollars were donated to the Arboretum by the Tennessee Nurseryman's Association. A system for maintaining a computerized list of plants in the Arboretum was introduced by UTAS research assistant, Margaret Olson. (Footnote 1)


June 1966 was especially eventful for the Arboretum. The UT Board of Trustees asked the state legislature to appropriate $200,000 for an Arboretum and Agricultural Conference Center with provision of money to upgrade and improve roads, construct bridges, and build a residence for the Arboretum Director.

Arboretum progress during 1966-67 included the construction and planting of a Muscadine Grape arbor which was designed and planted by Bob and Mary Smith and sponsored, in part, by the Oak Ridge Pilot Club; the construction of a plastic greenhouse; and of a foundation for a potting shed. The nucleus of a collection of rare dwarf plants was acquired when Bob MacDonald (Footnote 2) brought them back from a tour of arboreta he made in conjunction with his presentation of an invited paper to the International Horticulture Congress. A dwarf conifer house was designed at this time by Shirley Yuille (Footnote 3), who also supervised the plantings.

UTAS activities in 1966-67 and the principal members who participated were the following: work on the grounds - Bruce Lamond, Margaret Peterson, Louise Taylor, Helen Warren, and Donny Williams; welcome to visitors; Charles Mahoney, Helen Lewis, Bob and Mary Smith, and Katherine Stelzner. The second Plant Sale was pronounced a "rousing success . . . some $200 worth of plants were sold." Summer students, financed, in part, by plant sale funds were Allen Coggins, Mike Countess, Carol Macklin, and David Rugh.

July 1967 stands out in UTAS history. At that time, a policy change with regard to the Arboretum was announced by the UT Agricultural Experiment Station officials. Formerly, the project outline for the Arboretum (1964) had made provision for a broad, interdisciplinary program incorporating the objectives applicable to botany, forestry, and horticulture. The new policy limited the objectives of the Arboretum program to one which was forestry-oriented. This raised a question concerning what would be the future role to be filled by UTAS.

Another important date in the Society's early history was February 1968. It was then that UTAS president, Ed Clebsch, announced to the Board of Directors that effective March 15, Bob MacDonald was resigning as UT Arboretum Director to accept the Directorship of the John J. Tyler Arboretum at Lima, Pa. A month later, March 1968, James S. Kring, UT Forest Manager, was placed in charge of the Arboretum.

By June 1968 some of the growth and transition problems for the Society began to be resolved. This was reflected at the annual meeting when John Barrett read a memo from John Swing, Dean of the Agricultural Experiment Station. Swing's memo stated the objectives of the Arboretum to be the following: to establish a collection of trees, including mutants and those plants having commercial value as forest species from which materials may be obtained for breeding and propagation; to provide a place open to the public where individuals or groups may study the forest associations which are adapted to the environment of Tennessee. The memo outlined the ways by which the Society could support the effective operation and continuing development of the Arboretum. These ways were principally that of providing personnel to keep the Arboretum open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays and to guide visitors on tours of the Arboretum. The Society also could provide scholarships for graduate students; aid in the preparation of a National Science Foundation grant proposal; give assistance with the dwarf conifer house and with the two nurseries.

The year 1970 was one of consolidation and progress. The Arboretum at that time was comprised of several miles of foot trails and roads maintained for public use, and of over 2000 labeled plants representing 600 species. The office was moved from the cemetery to the Arboretum grounds. The new office was a potting shed salvaged by Bob and Mary Smith from the old guardhouse that had been the first Arboretum office. UTAS volunteers kept the Arboretum open to the public on weekends during May, June, and July; guided tours were led by Lenore Gundlach, Margaret Peterson, Bill Rainey, and Mary Smith; UTAS funds provided for UT graduate students to keep the Arboretum open on Fall weekends. Two successful plant sales were held in March and in May with Bob and Mary Smith as chairmen. UTAS history achieved a milestone in 1970 with the publication of the Children's Trail Guides. The material for the guides had been compiled by Carol Mackho, summer student; edited by UT professors, Ed Clebsch and A. M. Evans and by Bessie Huffman, Principal of Elm Grove School; illustrated by Caroline Weaver; and printed by Mary Ann Gibbons.

The year 1971 was a quiet, progressive year for UTAS. The history of the Society was requested by the Oak Ridge Historical Society for inclusion in the Archives list at the Public Library where histories of all the major organizations are to be found. The Arboretum was kept open to the public on weekends by Allen Coggins, who also gave talks to several garden clubs, as did Bill Rainey.


Headquarters Building Constructed in 1975 FIG. 2. The Forestry Experiment Stations and Arboretum headquarters building constructed in 1975 was an immense improvement in services to visitors. The building is shown here with the annual UTAS spring plant patrons.

The year 1972 brought a number of items of good news. In the summer, John Barrett announced that UT representatives had selected the Knoxville firm of Cooper and Perry, architects, to draw up plans for an Arboretum office building. The UT Forestry Department in cooperation with the University Engineer were developing detailed floor plans for the building. September brought a change in administration for the Arboretum. Richard M. Evans became Superintendent of the Oak Ridge Forestry Stations and Arboretum upon the retirement of James S. Kring. Also at this time, a reorganization at UT' placed the forestry experimental property under the management of the Forestry Experiment Stations within the UT Agricultural Experiment Stations. In November, when Richard Evans met with UTAS Board of Directors, he reported on plans for the new building and for construction of new roads.

Public recognition of the Arboretum came in two forms in the Spring of 1973. Arboretum Trails were designated as part of the Tennessee Recreation Trail System and public visits to the Arboretum were encouraged by the Knoxville Arts Festival and the Melton Hill Council of Garden Clubs. Arboretum projects completed during 1973 were the development of a rock garden and the publication of a visitor's guide to birds in the Arboretum. These were the work of James Morton, summer student.

The UTAS Summer Bulletin of 1974 carried good news: "The most exciting thing now happening at the Arboretum is the construction of a new Forestry Stations and Arboretum Headquarters building."

The Arboretum in October 1974 was designated for the first time as the location for the annual Forestry and Arboretum Field Day. This event is held every fall by the UT Agricultural Experiment Station at one of the six Forestry Field Stations. 1974 brought development of another trail to the Arboretum. Robin Hitner, 1974 summer student, designed and constructed the Lost Chestnut Trail which is built around the life and death of American Chestnut trees. The major UTAS program for members was a special Bonsai presentation held in cooperation with the Tennessee Valley Bonsai Society. Bill Rainey coordinated the program which was open to the public.


Visitors Participate in the Many Programs at the Arboretum FIG. 3. Visitors brave the elements to participate in the many programs at the Arboretum. Over 20,000 people annually visit the Forestry Experiment Station and Arboretum.

The year 1975 was really outstanding in the history of UTAS. The official dedication of the new Arboretum and Forestry Headquarters building was held on November 19, with UTAS providing refreshments. Principal speakers at the ceremonies were E. J. Boling, UT President; Webster Pendergrass, Vice-President of UT Institute of Agriculture; and Keith Bissell, Floterial Representative. Speeches briefly reviewed the history of the Arboretum and reminded those present that an arboretum is "a place where native and exotic trees and shrubs are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes." Richard Evans conducted visitors through the new building and UT vans carried visitors around the grounds. Tour guides from UT were J. Barrett, Head of Forestry; E. Buckner, Associate Professor of Forestry; D. B. Williams, Head of Ornamental Horticulture and Landscape Design; Hendrik van de Werken, Associate Professor of OHLD; and A. J. Sharp, Professor of Botany.

Arboretum development at this time included some 250 acres, with 80 to 85 acres mapped for public visitation. There were nearly eight miles of roads and two and a half miles of trails maintained for public use. Over two thousand plants had been labeled; these represented 750 species and varieties. The new building, landscaped by the Arboretum staff according to a design proposed by D. B. Williams and Hendrik van de Werken, was a demonstration of effective use of native plants in the home landscape.

This was indeed an eventful time in the history of UTAS! The Society had raised funds by means of plant sales and membership dues in order to supply furniture for the library, superintendent's office, and conference room in the new building. In addition, the Society had provided books for the Arboretum library.

The years 1976-77 brought a number of changes to UTAS. The Spring-Summer Bulletin, with its cover picture of the dedication of the new building, was the last of the UTAS Bulletins to be published. The Society had found them beyond the resources available. The Plant Sale became the responsibility of Lenore Gundlach upon the retirement of Bob and Mary Smith who had been associated with the sale since 1966 and chairmen since 1970. For the first time, UTAS shared the cost with UT of a graduate assistantship. The recipient was Roberta Patey. The investigation for her thesis, "Identification of Preferred Landscape as an Initial Step in Developing Guidelines for Mapping the Scenic Quality of Forest," was performed at the Arboretum under the direction of Richard Evans. Roberta was also a summer student employee in 1975 and again in 1976 along with Roger Steed. In these years the tours were conducted by UTAS volunteer guides Jane Akers, Lois Good, Betts Higgins, and Margaret Peterson. This successful program was reduced by UTAS when the revised Trail Guides published by UT made self-guiding tours possible. On special requests UTAS volunteers continue to conduct guided tours. In 1976-77 UTAS sponsored a series of public lectures. D. B. Williams presented lectures on the problems encountered in landscaping home grounds in Tennessee. A. J. Sharp gave an illustrated lecture on the subject of endangered plants. Another change for UTAS in 1977 came with the retirement of Bob Smith after almost ten years as treasurer of the Society, and eleven years as a member of the Board of Directors.

March 1978 brought the initiation of a new UTAS program when the first issue of a News Bulletin was published with Lois Good as Editor. This new publication combined the former publications of Newsletter and Bulletin into a short form designed to keep UTAS members informed, on a regular basis, of activities and business of the Society. The public lecture program was continued in 1978 with Duncan Callicott, Director of the Tennessee Botanical Gardens at Cheekwood, speaking about public gardens and arboreta. The 1978 Plant Sale offered a new feature; D. B. Williams was present to help the public with questions of plant identification, with problems concerning plant culture, and suggestions for use of plants in the landscape. UTAS was unable this year to finance the summer student program. It was fortunate that the TVA Young Adult Conservation Corps (YACC) program was able to provide personnel to help at the Arboretum. Another new event was initiated in 1978. The first annual Fall Walk was cosponsored by UTAS and the UT Arboretum. It included guided walks to observe birds and other wildlife, trees and shrubs, landscape plants and wildflowers. UTAS served refreshments.


Natural Features of the Property FIG. 4. The hills, woods, streams and other natural features of the property provide an attractive setting to which the plant collections were carefully added.

The year 1978 held much tension because the Arboretum area was being threatened by developers wanting the site for a municipal airport! During the summer of 1978 public forums were held to discuss possible sites in the Oak Ridge area where an airport could be built, but in September the Oak Ridge City Council announced its choice of the Chestnut Ridge site on the UT Forestry Experiment Station and Arboretum. UT announced its refusal to sell the land and emphasized the importance of the research being conducted on the area. UTAS President, George Eckerd, sent an urgent letter (Footnote 4) to all UTAS members alerting them of the threat that an airport would be to the Arboretum. A public forum was held in April 1979 on the issue of an airport on the UT research land. The meeting was sponsored by the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning. Tennessee Native Plant Society Representative Bob Farmer spoke against locating an airport on the Chestnut Ridge site; Richard Evans, Superintendent of the Forestry Station and Arboretum, said that "an airport at Chestnut Ridge would disrupt the University's education program there, and even threaten its existence."

The year 1979, nevertheless, saw UTAS continuing its activities while the fate of the Arboretum remained in balance. Once again the Plant Sale was a success and again the public was offered advice on plants and on landscaping. UTAS was again able to help with the summer student program; the student selected with Jenny Mercer, a UT graduate in wildlife and fisheries. A new fund-raising project was initiated with the sale of Arboretum T-shirts. In October the Arboretum was again the location for the UT Annual Forestry and Arboretum Field Day; UTAS served refreshments for this event as well as for the second annual Fall Walk.

In the closing days of 1979, petitions were circulated among the voters of Oak Ridge in an effort to give the citizens of Oak Ridge an opportunity to vote for or against the building of an airport. The effort was initiated by the UT Arboretum Society, The Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, and the Tennessee Native Plant Society. These organizations also made public a map pointing out the impact of the proposed airport on the research programs of the UT Forestry Experiment Station and Arboretum. Thus 1980 began with the future of the Arboretum very much unsettled, although a hopeful note appeared in January when UTAS sponsored the premier of Richard Evans' program, "The Arboretum-A Place for all Seasons."

Members who have served one or more terms on the Board of Directors:

Ben Adams, Howard Adler, Jane Akers, Stanley Auerbach, Robert Ball, Eunice Begun, Aubrey Bradshaw, Allen Coggins, H. R. DeSelm, A. Murray Evans, Rima Farmer, Frank Galyon, Jack Gibbons, Ralph Hall, Jo Henderson, John Hill, Tom Hill, Lennie Jeffreys, Mary Beth Klepper, Jody Krause, Hugh Long, Joe Marasco, John Million, George Moore, Ruth Moore, David Novelli, Margaret Peterson, B. S. Pickett, Herman Postma, Richard Raridon, Sam Shoup, Mary Smith, Ed Struxness, D. B. Williams.

The following people were honorary members of UTAS by virtue of their offices: Governor Buford Ellington 1965, Frank Clement 1966, Winfield Dunn 1971, Ray Blanton 1976, Lamar Alexander 1978, President of UT Andrew Holt 1965, Edward Boling 1971, Dean of the College of Agriculture Webster Pendergrass 1965, W. W. Armistead 1979.

The following people were Trustees of UTAS: Robert Ball, 1966; Carl Koella, 1967; Jack Gibbons, Bob MacDonald, William Pollard, John Brennan, 1969.

Footnotes 1-Margaret Olson's contribution to computerization of plant records for the International Plant Records Committee was done in cooperation with Bob MacDonald.
2-Bob MacDonald, as chairman of the International Plant Records Committee, presented papers on the subject of electronic data processing of plant records at the American Horticultural Congress, the annual meeting of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, and the International Symposium on Information Problems in the Natural Sciences.
3-Shirley Yuille, a UTAS volunteer, holds the Royal Horticultural Society Diploma in Horticulture.
4-Excerpts from the letter follow: "this tract of land now known as the UT Forestry Experiment station and Arboretum was deeded to the University of Tennessee on August 21, 1961 by the Dept. of Health, Education & Welfare. Allowances within the deed stipulate that the University must use the land for educational purposes which benefit the public. Examples of educational usage of the land in question are the following research programs which are presently in progress: 1. A nationwide cooperative study which aims to provide genetically improved seeds for producers of white pine. 2. A 10-year study of the effects of fertilization and irrigation on the growth of sweetgum, loblolly pine and yellow poplar.
3. A yellow poplar heritability test. 4. A Douglas fir seed orchard. 5. A white pine seed orchard. 6. A forested watershed study. 7. An American chestnut progeny test to develop blight resistant strains. The direct and immediate result of the proposed airport will be the loss of these projects. The construction of an airport on the proposed site would necessitate the re-evaluation of the entire UT Forestry Experiment Station and Arboretum program of research, development and education." On December 5, 1978 the University of Tennessee announced its refusal to sell the land.


Winter at the Arboretum FIG. 5. Change of seasons only serve to highlight the natural beauty in the Arboretum that is captured in an audiovisual program "The Arboretum - A Place for all Seasons."

The author wishes to thank the following people for help in preparing the manuscript for publication: Lois Good, Lenore Gundlach, and Richard Raridon.


UTAS Table of Directors

The Silver Anniversary Update of the Society History can be viewed at UTAS History Update. Current information about the Society and membership opportunities are available at or by e-mail at

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