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The Creation of the Grounds
and how this changed the ecology of the area forever

Abbey Chapel and Williston with young trees seen in the background and forground. Courtesy of MHC Archives.
Men spraying pesticides on part of the Mount Holyoke College Campus to try and control some sort of pest. Courtesy of MHC Archives.
Talcott Arboretum with the 1904 gardens in the foreground. Courtesy of MHC Archives.

“How beautiful the noble avenues of trees that used to bound our grounds.”
- June 10th, 1885 (33)

On opening day the seminary grounds had not been landscaped at all.  The original campus of the seminary consisted of ten acres of farmland bought from Joe Hayes and Peter Allen.  To read more about the shift from farmland to campus click here.  There was a grove of Huckleberries near the road and a Blackberry patch by “The Ravine” but aside from this no plant life was mentioned to be in and around the Seminary's plot of land.  The plan for these first ten acres of land was simple and practical for the first two years.  Potatoes and oats would be planted to provide food to the Seminary.  (4)

The picture of the men spraying to control pests on the Mount Holyoke College campus is very telling.  First of all the way the picture was taken makes the campus look like a wild jungle.  This eludes to the fact that the campus was and has been seen as a place of nature.  Also the fact that the men are spraying shows mans dominance over nature in terms of the campus. But the spraying also suggsts how much the campus meant to people and how muc htime and energy they spent trying to "preserve" the campus.

Planning the Landscape: In 1839 the plan for the campus landscape got more elaborate. A letter from Mr. Samuel Wells was written to Mary Lyon with the purpose of suggestions for “ornamenting” the front yard of the seminary.  The two major attributes that the landscape would strive for were “plainness and neatness in layout”.  Wells made many suggestions for the original creation of the campus landscape some of which can still be seen today.  He concludes his letter by stating that it is “the sincere wish that you may make your garden an earthy paradise and the minds and hearts of all your pupils be fitted for the paradise above.” These suggestions included but were not limited to:

  1. Along the main road plant elm trees every twenty feet and when the branches touch remove every other one (this was to prevent over crowding which would have stunted the growth of the trees making them less grandiose)
  2. Have gravel sidewalks in front of the seminary (ecologically this would have been beneficial due to the fact that it allows for proper drainage)
  3. Brick the sidewalk from the gateway to the steps of the portico (another good idea because it will prevent the trampling of the other plants by creating a definitive path)
  4. Create a border around the front and sides of the yard with gardens which will have taller shrubbery in back and flowers in front
  5. In the center of the square the ground should be elevated eighteen inches to two feet and a black spruce or fir “of a perfectly straight body” should be planted there to create a “true pyramidal form”
  6. Another square should be created with its center devoted entirely to an ornamental flower garden (5)

Ecological Implications: Ecologically the whole campus has been created.  From species composition to location of the plants everything has been planned.  This has influenced the types of creatures that have chosen to make their home on the Mount Holyoke campus.  It has also created a relatively unstable ecosystem because it is not allowed to adapt or change.  This causes more intense competition in terms of nutrient needs which can decrease growth rates making the ecosystem even more unstable.  But let’s assume for a minute that the planners of the campus took all these factors into account.  The truth is they couldn’t have.  Even today we have only scratched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to knowing how and why ecosystems behave in the manner they do.  The college has created a beautiful created landscape but as we saw with the hurricanes the ecosystem does not have much resilience (this could also be due not only to the fact that it was created but because ecologically speaking it its still relatively young). 

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This page was created by Molly Edson 2007 in History 283,Spring Semester 2006 -