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UT Arboretum Society History
Silver Anniversary Update

The University of Tennessee Arboretum Society
Silver Anniversary Update

Compiled by Eunice Begun
Edited by Walter Pietrzak
For a complete detailed early history of the Society see the
History of The University of Tennessee Arboretum Society
Published July 1981

In Memorium
The Society wishes to remember
Lois Good
Lenore Gundlach
Jo Ann Hall
Margaret Peterson
Mary Smith

for their dedication and service.

The Formative Years

"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... is largely second-growth Oak and Hickory forest in what was originally Oak and Chestnut forest."

Thus read the description for the 2260 acre tract located in Oak Ridge which was transferred to the University of Tennessee by the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare in August 1961. The stipulated restriction with this transfer of ownership was that the tract be used for "teaching, research and demonstration". Working within these guide lines, a University committee submitted its report in December 1962 outlining the objectives for the use of the Oak Ridge forest. This report carried in it the recommendation of Dr. A. J. Sharp, Botany Professor (now Distinguished Professor Emeritus) that a portion of the forest be designated as an arboretum. With the approval of this report, the Oak Ridge forest became the University of Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station and Arboretum; with the 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...". In April 1964, the University of Tennessee Forestry Department started work on the Arboretum with Robert MacDonald, Assistant Professor in Forestry, named as Experiment Station and Arboretum Director.

With the Arboretum now a reality, a "friends of the Arboretum group" was organized and met on February 27, 1965. At the next meeting on March 20, 1965, the group decided to call itself the University of Tennessee Arboretum Society (UTAS) with the proposed goals of 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, fund raising and information service. The third meeting was held on April 20, 1965 at which time the Charter of Incorporation was received and the first slate of officers was elected. (A complete list of Officers through the present is found in the Appendix.) The Society membership at the time was 80 people.

The new Arboretum in the 1966-67 time period acquired a rare drawf conifer collection and received a state appropriation for the Director's residence. The new Society volunteers were busy with the construction of a plastic green house, building the foundation for a potting shed and planting the muscadine grape arbor which had been designed by Society members.

An early Society fundraiser included a plant sale in June 1967 and was termed a "rousing success" when $200 worth of plants were sold. About this time changes were also in the wind. In March of 1968, James Kring replaced Robert MacDonald as Arboretum Director. In addition, the Agricultural Experiment Station and Arboretum roles were redefined from the original broad interdisciplinary botanical forestry and horticultural objectives to more limited forestry oriented objectives. To answer growing concerns about the future of Society roles in its support of the Arboretum, the University issued a statement which spelled them out. Except for the ability to organize work and/or study groups to develop certain areas of the Arboretum the roles remained unchanged from those originally envisioned when the Society was formed. Thus, the Society could continue to perform and function similar to the way it did in the recent past.

The 1970's

With just a few months into the decade, the Society, using materials compiled by a summer student, drew on skills of the membership to put together and publish the Children's Trail Guides. This was followed in 1971 with the publication of the First History of the Society for inclusion in the archives of the Oak Ridge Public Library.

1972 was another year of change and new beginnings for the Experiment Station and Arboretum. A reorganization at the University placed the Oak Ridge forest under direct management of the University of Tennessee Forest Experiment Stations. At about the same time, James Kring retired and Richard M. Evans was named Superintendent of the renamed U.T. Forestry Experiment Station and Arboretum. On top of these changes was the announcement of the start of design for the Forestry Experiment Stations office and Arboretum visitors center building. The Society continued doing what it had grown used to doing. In 1973 and 1974, the Society supported summer students, published a visitors guide to birds in the Arboretum and designed and constructed the Lost Chestnut Trail. By 1975, the Arboretum had developed to the point where it included 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 maintained trails. Over two thousand plants had been labeled, representing 750 species and plant varieties. The new Forestry Stations headquarters and Arboretum visitors center building was completed and dedicated. Society funds were used to provide office and conference room furniture and books and furniture for the library.

With the publication by the University of new trail guides in 1976, self-guiding Arboretum tours became possible. This led to the decision by the Society to discontinue guided tours except for special occasions. The Society also decided to discontinue the "Bulletin" because of limited resources. In a shortened format the News Bulletin appeared in 1978 principally devoted to keeping the members informed of Society business and activities.

Through the '70's, the Plant Sale grew by leaps and bounds allowing the Society to continue and expand its support efforts which required funds. But more than that, the Plant Sale committee were ever particular about the quality and variety of plants offered. New and improved cultivars were and are continually introduced to the community. Planning begins in the fall with just a few people involved and builds up to over 50 member volunteers on the days of the Sale. The Plant Sales then and now feature knowledgeable volunteers to answer questions pertaining to culture and the use of plants in the landscape.

As part of its continuing information program the Society sponsors an annual lecture series. The series draws on University and professional specialists to present well-rounded plant related programs. In 1978, the Society participated with the University in the first Arboretum walk. Sponsoring and co-sponsoring Arboretum walks, like the lecture series, have now become another permanent part of the Society's programs for the general public.

The years 1978-79 were years of tension for the Society and the Forestry Experiment Station and Arboretum. The tension arose out of Chestnut Ridge being named as the preferred site for the location of the proposed Oak Ridge airport. This siting included those portions of the Oak Ridge forest which would destroy ongoing long-term forestry experiments, research projects, and, in fact, jeopardize the existence of the Experiment Station and Arboretum. The Society, along with the public, the Tennessee Council of Garden Clubs, the Tennessee Native Plant Society and the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, united to speak out against the siting in the media, council meetings, and public forums.

The 1980's

Tensions arising out of the airport siting carried over and extended into the mid-'80's. The issue faded when monetary matters overrode all other considerations resulting in the shelving of the airport proposals. The Society breathed a sigh of relief and welcomed the opportunity to get back to devoting its energies to what it does best.

1985 saw the beginning of a long-term Society project with the first planting in what is planned to be a world class holly garden. A second large scale planting completed in the fall of 1989 brought the number of cultivars planted up to 100. When completed, the garden will feature a collection of over 500 species, varieties and cultivars of the genus Ilex - all donated - with planting by the membership.

At this time the Society extended its support outside the Arboretum when it co-sponsored the observation of Arbor Day with the City of Oak Ridge and the Oak Ridge Beautification Committee. This team work has continued to the present time. The high point of this team effort occurred in 1989 when the City of Oak Ridge was awarded and flew the National Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA flag.

In 1987, the annual meeting for the election of officers was expanded to include an awards ceremony. The intent being to acknowledge persons for their dedication and support of the objectives of the Society and the Arboretum. This first ceremony singled out Dr. A. J. Sharp, the University of Tennessee Distinguished Professor Emeritus who was so instrumental for the existence of the Arboretum. Throughout the history of the Society, Dr. Sharp has been continually visible serving as lecturer and long time Board member. Two years later, in 1989, the Society awarded special recognition to Ruth Moore, garden columnist, knowledgeable participant in plant sales, and Board member on more than several occasions. Now, in 1990, the Society extends its recognition to Richard M. Evans. Richard is a long term U.T. Forestry Experiment Stations and Arboretum Superintendent. As the University representative, Richard has served as the mentor to guide the Society within the frame work of University policies relating to the Arboretum.

1987 was also the year of the first Society sponsored membership tours to gardens and arboreta in Tennessee and neighboring states. The first tour went east into North Carolina. Subsequent tours travelled into Georgia and Alabama while the 1990 tour travelled into Kentucky and middle Tennessee. The idea behind the tours is exposure to what other arboreta are doing and becoming acquainted with sources of support. As such, the tours are not strictly for pleasure, although that is allowed.

After a dry spell of a few years, the Society revived the publication of a periodical. Disregarding any previous format and named by a contest, The Leaflet appeared in 1989 and is being distributed to the membership on a quarterly basis. The intent is to provide interesting and informative plant related articles, a calendar of Society and related events, book reviews, recipes, poetry, and whatever may be appropriate. The Leaflet asks and receives from the membership submittals of articles of interest.

The Year 1990: The Silver Anniversary Year

Special activities of the Silver Anniversary year that have not been touched upon include the creation of a wild flower rock garden. This 1990 creation concentrates on aesthetically pleasing flower species that occur on local rocky ledges and outcroppings.

For the past few years, the Society has been donating and planting plants in the 'Heath Cove'. In the fall of 1990, the planting added 31 rhododendron bringing the total of recent additions up to 100 cultivars.

Back in 1989, the society again broadened its support role when it established a book committee to supply books and video tapes on horticultural subjects to public libraries in the surrounding communities. In 1990, the first recipient of Society purchased books was the Oak Ridge Public Library. The next recipient is about to be named.

The Society has set aside funds and has established a task group to select a general purpose garden shelter for installation in the Arboretum. It is anticipated this goal will be accomplished within the next two years.

In its twenty-five years, the Society has matured and grown to over 300 active memberships. Activities mentioned above are just the specials over and above activities which have become so routine they are taken for granted, but they are there.

The Society's present President, Dr. Ted Rogers, as we wind down our Silver Anniversary year says... "As long as the members remain dedicated to the preservation of trees, to a healthy environment and to sound educational values, the Society will flourish for years to come."


UTAS Table of Directors

Current information about the Society and membership opportunities are available at or by e-mail at

Return to UTAS History

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