Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Metcalf Botanical Garden

The Metcalf Botanical Garden, occupying between thirteen and fourteen acres between Morris Avenue and Cypress Street was deeded to Brown in 1884 by Mrs. Almira T. Metcalf as a permanent memorial to her husband, Whiting Taft Metcalf, who had planted about half of the hundred trees on the site. The only building on the grounds was a barn, the Metcalf home having burned in 1875. In her letter conveying the land, Mrs. Metcalf noted that it might be used for the erection of an astronomical observatory, for other buildings “to promote the scientific ends of the University,” and for the establishment of a botanical garden in memory of her husband. In accepting the gift, President Robinson hoped that the land might be put to use in connection with the requirements of the land grant which Brown had received. In 1889 two and one-half additional acres adjoining the property were added, having been acquired by a mortgage foreclosure, and came to Brown through the efforts of former Chancellor William Goddard, who had purchased it either in his own name or as an agent of the University. In the following years the University lost the land grant, erected the observatory elsewhere, and did not have the funds to establish the botanical garden, although advice on its development had been sought from two Harvard professors. Some income was brought in by leasing the land. In 1897 an attempt by the heirs to recover the land on the grounds of non-compliance was not allowed by the court, and in 1908 Mrs. Metcalf’s daughter, Almira Pierce, unwillingly paid Brown $8,000 which she had held in trust “for the improvement of the ... Botanical Garden,” and took this opportunity to protest the University’s inaction. In 1900 the trees had been marked with labels and a fence built for the protection of the new nursery. In 1903 the University School obtained permission to use part of the grounds for athletics, and a fence was installed to separate the rented pasture. The English Department used the Garden as background for Shakespearean plays. One such scheduled performance by Ben Greet’s “Everyman” company in June 1903 was “rained out” and staged in Infantry Hall. The only truly botanical use of the Garden was a study of the pathology of pine trees conducted by Professor Harlan H. York. Improvements in 1912 included a new fence and the planting of hedges around the grounds. During World War I about six and one-half acres were set aside for a “Faculty Garden,” where faculty members planted their own vegetables. In 1917 the University purchased the Durfee land between Elmgrove and Cole Avenues, and then began negotiations with the heir of the donors of the botanical garden property, with a view to using the combined site for an athletic plant The result was the removal of the restrictions on the use of the Metcalf Botanical Garden in consideration of the return of approximately one-third of the land to the heir, and the building of the Stadium on the lot.