By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus
Recently, I was browsing The Long Road Traveled by Henry Schmitz, from 1973, in preparation for a presentation about the Washington Park Arboretum. I believe it is important to review how the leadership of the University of Washington was the catalyst to create the Arboretum. Almost all of this “glimpse” is the writing of Dr. Schmitz, but in a very condensed form.
The University of Washington seems to have wanted an arboretum from very early in its history. Shortly after his election in 1891 as a member of the State legislature, Edmond S. Meany became chairman of the legislative committee concerned with the acquisition of a new campus for the University. There are indications that he promoted the project in part by claims that it would provide an arboretum for the State as well as a campus for the University. If this is true, it was undoubtedly a method to elicit support from the lumber industry, which was not entirely without influence at that time in the state legislature. The late Herbert Condon used to relate a delightful story about a member of the legislature whom Mr. Meany was attempting to interest in the selection of the Union Bay area for the new campus-arboretum. The legislator listened to the arguments and then said, “Meany, I will help you get the area, but tell me-what in hell is an arboretum?”
It seems clear that for some years after the University moved to the new (and present) location selected by Dr. Meany’s committee, the development of an arboretum on the campus remained an important aim. The text calls attention to gifts of trees from the Seattle City Parks Department for planting on the new grounds. On Arbor Day 1898, the Parks Department had presented the University with fifty assorted oaks and honey locusts. Later, Parks contributed an additional 2200 fine trees embracing almost thirty species new to the grounds, as well as a donation of a thousand perennials. These donations, along with a collection of five hundred more perennials from other sources gave impetus to a plan for the beautification of the campus. These donations were said to “represent 42 natural orders and 179 species.”
A seed and plant exchange with eastern collectors was established by Dr. Meany to secure for the campus “as many rare and desirable species as possible.” Contributions of seeds were received from California, the Canadian Department of Agriculture, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Dr. Meany’s home garden was used entirely for growing seedlings of tree seeds received through the seed exchange. Since the city water mains had not yet been extended to his home, it was necessary for him to carry water in pails to the nursery beds. He was especially proud of the relations he had established with Kew Gardens and was greatly concerned that the seedlings survive.
Sadly, when the campus was cleared for the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, many of the trees planted in the early days by Professor Meany and others were destroyed. Nevertheless, the idea of an arboretum on the campus did not completely die. A few years later, Hugo Winkenwerder, Dean of the College of Forestry, with the enthusiastic support of Professor Meany, proposed to President Franklin Kane that the entire area below the railroad tracks be set aside for arboretum purposes. This proposal was approved by the President and the area was designated “Arboretum” on maps of the campus of that period.Progress was slow, and as the years went by, pressures developed on the campus for the construction of a golf course in the arboretum area. It was argued by the proponents of the golf course that the area could serve both purposes – the fairways and greens would occupy only part of the space and the remaining area could still serve as an arboretum. However, the golf course eventually took possession of the entire area and in late 1923 Dean Winkenwerder gloomily said that he “lost all hope of ever developing an arboretum on the University campus.”
Although he recognized that an arboretum on campus was impractical because of the ever-changing patterns of land use by a growing university, Dean Winkenwerder did not for a moment give up the idea of developing an arboretum somewhere, and he conferred with President Henry Suzzallo to explore other possibilities. Even though it was President Suzzallo who had transformed the last campus arboretum into a golf course, he had a clear concept of the importance of a highly developed botanical garden and arboretum as a resource to the natural science departments of the University and to the people of Seattle and the State. He believed that the Arboretum should be developed jointly by the University and the City of Seattle.
Shortly after his conference with Dean Winkenwerder, Dr. Suzzallo addressed the Seattle Rotary Club to enlist the support of this important group of business and professional leaders for an arboretum in the Washington Park area. He said in part: “to the Board of Park Commissioners, that Board seems to have prepared Resolution No. 40 setting aside the entire area of Washington Park for a botanical garden and arboretum and giving the University of Washington certain privileges” (6th Day of February 1924).
Want to read the rest of the story? The Road Less Traveled is available for borrowing at the Elisabeth C. Miller Library.