Allegheny College has maintained a strong connection with the natural world from its beginnings in 1815. When Reverend Timothy Alden established his institution in Meadville, Pennsylvania, he wanted to tame the wilderness of northwestern Pennsylvania and cultivate the barren frontier. It comes as no surprise that in 1822, two years after construction began on Bentley Hall, a sycamore tree was planted near the building’s southwest corner. According to classical legend, a sycamore tree will bring good fortune to its neighboring building. The health of the tree has thus been linked to the continued success and growth of the College. Local myth contends that Timothy Alden planted the tree himself. This majestic tree standing 125 feet high was placed on the National Register of Historic Trees in 2001.
The alma mater celebrates Allegheny College’s pastoral natural setting in the verse:
“Warm rests the sun, so soft on wall and vine;
No air in all the world can equal thine,
Again we flame our torches at thy shrine,
O, Alma Mater, Beatissima”
The Bentley Sycamore is the only living major tree on campus whose age is known. But it was only the first of many that were planted for ornament and later, particularly in the 1930s under President William P. Tolley, to create an educational, arboretum-like environment.