Past and Present

Bates College, 1909, by Hanson

Bates College, 2015, by Brett Huggett

It would be difficult for today’s visitor to the Bates Campus to imagine it without trees. Indeed, some of the lush verdure is as old as the College itself, but remarkably, no older. In 1857, the landscape of what would become the Quad was an “open, cultivated, sloping and undulating field, designed to be filled up in a proper manner with ornamental and shade trees, after laying out the walks, “ according to the May 1857 issue of Seminary Advocate.

In the early years of the College there was such enthusiasm for arborculture that “tree day” became an annual festivity. Students, faculty, and even President Oren B. Cheney went into the neighboring woods and removed young trees to transplant to the barer parts of campus. Neighbors, laughingly called the first transplants “Cheney’s row of sticks.”

But the “row of sticks” grew into majestic elms, maples, pines, and oaks. As time passed and the campus expanded, a great number and diversity of trees complemented the landscape. Sadly, many of the great elms planted by Oren Cheney, Johnny Stanton, Lyman Jordan, and other legendaries were lost to Dutch elm disease in the 1950’s. The red oak and hemlock at the corner of Carnegie Science and the massive white pines behind Smith Hall are believed to constitute the only flourishing legacy of the “tree days” of 140 years ago.

Today, more than 40 tree species – native and non-native, towering and lilliputian – grace the 109 acres of this traditional New England campus. A staff of landscapers and arboriculturalists upholds the College’s long commitment to renewing and enriching the beauty of our environs with trees, shrubs, and grasses.

As you enjoy a walk around the Bates campus, consider a sentiment that a seminary student here expressed back in the “tree days” era. As he wrote in a local newspaper, “Our children may sit with pleasure under the shade of some tree that we have planted, when we ourselves are asleep in the dust.”

— original author Alan W. Jenkins ‘02