When the Allegwe and the Seneca peoples lived in French Creek Valley, it was thickly forested with beech, red oak, American chestnuts, cherry, ashes, pine and hemlocks. For the European settlers, the land was to be tamed and cleared for farming, making lumbering a major economic enterprise. The original five acres donated for Allegheny College on Mt. Hope commanded an excellent view of the Cussewago and French Creek, but the campus itself was barren. Thus, in the early years, suitable native trees were “planted for ornament,” and individual trees are remembered in campus lore: the Bentley Sycamore, the Lyre Elm, the Circle of Pines, and the Seven Sisters.
An inscription on the college seal reflects the idea that the college was a cultivated oasis in the wilderness: “the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose” (Is. 35:1). In the 1910s, donors Frank A. Arter and Sarah Cochran contributed hundreds of trees for mass plantings, such as the 200 original rhododendrons for the Ravine. President William H. Crawford assisted by faculty biologist Chester Darling worked to acquire new species and rarer specimens for display. In the 1930s President William R. Tolley and Trustee Andrew Wells Robertson continued the commitment to create an idyllic natural environment for learning, with the Alumni Gardens in 1937-38, and the expansion of the campus with Eberhardt (now Robertson Field) and the Bousson Environmental Research Reserve. Due to this thoughtful cultivation of a variety of plants, the college campus today meets all the requirements to be recognized as an arboretum by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
With the rise of the ecology movement and the development of an environmental science program, 21st-century Allegheny College pursues sustainability as an integral part of its mission. The commitment is evident in LEED® certified buildings like the North Village residential project, the environmental art in Carr Hall, the (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)rooftop garden of the Vukovich Center, or the Climate Action Plan to achieve climate neutrality by the year 2020. But political and economic challenges to sustainability are evident in the recent controversy over a proposal for hydraulic fracturing in the Bousson Reserve. The campus landscape remains a place to be cherished, as alumni sing in the alma mater:
“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.”