by Kit Anderson '76 G'81
Ira Allen promised the University of Vermont fifty acres and 4,000 pounds. The money never materialized, but he delivered on the land, including the seven-acre hilltop parcel where his bronze figure stands today, eyes downcast, seemingly in contemplation of the grass, tulips, or snow at his feet. Back in 1791, there was little more than Allens intentions to suggest that his rough, pine-covered plot of land would become the symbolic heart of the campus the UVM Green.
the time, Burlington was a frontier town, Vermont, mostly forest. The
native Abenaki had been pushed out of the area, leaving no clue to how
they viewed this particular piece of land. We do know that as soon as
Allen deeded it to the brand new state of Vermont, it became highly significant.
Over the years, the UVM Green would become the scene of celebrations and
confrontations, of public and private life. Trees and sheep, fountains
and fences would come and go, reflecting changing attitudes and styles.
Todays urban park holds reminders of a rich and varied heritage.
was easy in the universitys early decades. Why should the Green
be any different? In 1801, just ten years after he donated land to start
UVM, Allen threatened to tear down the first structures if they were built
on the portion he had designated for use as a green. He wrote to university
trustees: I have observed that you are about to erect buildings
on lands that have been appropriated for a public Green, to contribute
both to convenience, elegance and use of the University of Vermont
And the General made it clear in closing that I shall use every
influence in my power
to remove any buildings that are or may be
erected on said lands Allen believed a proper college needed
a proper open area. The towering white pines werent part of the
plan either. So they were cut and some of the wood was used to construct
the first college building facing the Green.
many of you, Ive walked through the Green countless times on the
way to classes. On a sunny day, its an idyllic spot for a study
break Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the west, the striking
of University Row to the east. All told, how many burgers, burritos, and
egg rolls have been consumed here?
is easy. Fewer of you know the Green via the suffering of weekly dendrology
quizzes. Im still haunted by the 1970s memories standing
in silence, desperately trying to conjure memories of various maple leaf
shapes or the difference between red and pin oak buds. I proudly carry
on the tradition of this particular torture; in recent years, Ive
joined the ranks of the professors who use the trees as teaching tools.
also widened my focus on this place, bringing the perspective of a cultural
geographer with an interest in landscape, place, and human-plant interactions.
Students in my classes have explored these topics with me, and Im
grateful for their contributions. With their help, along with historical
documents and interviews, the story of the Green is coming together, but
it is far from complete.
to bears, sheep, students
rough perhaps, but an important clearing to the little frontier town proud
of its college on the hill. On July 4, 1811, five hundred people from
Burlington gathered under a huge tent set up on the Green for a community
oxen roast to celebrate Independence Day.
wasnt always so harmonious. Allens early objections would
be the first of many disagreements regarding what was appropriate for
this land. Students didnt like a new fence, burned it, and faced
a fine for their rebellion. When faculty attempted to sell hay cut on
the grounds, students thought otherwise and scattered what was gathered.
when the Green earned a reputation among farmers as the best pasture in
town, students werent happy about livestock grazing on their commons.
A legendary feud developed with one persistent sheep farmer (reported,
perhaps with some exaggeration, in the 1894 Ariel). In spite of repeated
warnings, it seems, the farmer brought his flock back to graze on the
Green. One morning the town and campus awoke to the bleating of the entire
flock bound together with rope. Round two: students hauled one particularly
unfortunate sheep up into the Old Mill bell tower. When the bells rang,
it jumped in fright to the roof, and as rescuers approached leapt to its
death. Round three: students dug a trench and buried the entire flock
up to their necks.
on the Green have a long tradition. Fences, livestock, bans on cigar smoking,
laws on marijuana smoking, South African apartheid, campus diversity,
and the Vietnam War are just a few of the issues that have been debated
with voices, plywood, and spray paint.
19th century was a time of dramatic growth for UVM and Burlington. Vermonts
forests were cut to make way for farms, yielding vast quantities of timber
and securing Burlingtons place as a major lumbering port. The university
expanded with new buildings along the east and north sides of the Green.
From their rooms
students living on one side of the Green and Burlington families on the
other, the space was a versatile commons of many uses during this era,
both playground and community meeting place. After the Civil War, a woman
whose home faced the Green looked out to see young men playing an odd
new game brought back from the South. They called it baseball.
treeing of the Green began with several university presidents and a few
graduating classes adding informal plantings of pines, cedars, and tamaracks
during the mid-19th century. Serious progress was made when students stepped
into the picture again with a drive to beautify the campus as part of
the national centennial celebrations in 1876. They planted double rows
of American elms along walks and streets, creating formal allées.
As these stately, vase-shaped trees matured, they formed regular columns
of straight trunks, topped by a high arching canopy. The city was planting
elms along its streets, too, so that eventually college and community
the turn of the century, the UVM Green was considered one of the most
attractive college parks in New England, promoted as a must-see for Burlington
visitors. By then, the man-made decoration of the Ira Allen and General
Lafayette statues, an ornate fountain, and lighting had been added. Graduations
began to be held on the Green, and new traditions, such as robing Ira
Allen (presumably his first college graduates gown) and planting
ivy at the base of Billings were started.
the Green was an important site for university and community life. The
annual Winter Festival included snow and ice sculptures on Green. And
during the early years the erstwhile Kakewalk event sometimes spilled
out of the gymnasium (now Royall Tyler Theatre) onto the Green. In early
spring, the grassy area attracted newly arrived Italian immigrant women,
who came up from town in buggies to harvest dandelion greens, assisted
by students eager to weed the lawn.
happened? First, sprawl happened. By 1960, nobody lived next door to the
Green any more. Waterman replaced smaller buildings on the west. Dorms
were moved to Redstone Campus and to the east, away from the Green. The
new library replaced Billings as a center of academic life. Sports were
played on the far reaches of campus Centennial Field, Gutterson,
Archie Post. Graduation itself moved to the soccer field.
came Dutch elm disease. The elms that formed a tunnel down College Street,
framing the annual toboggan race from campus to the frozen lake, the elms
that graced the UVM Green in many a hand-tinted postcard from beautiful
Burlington, died. By 1972, when Dick Streeter arrived as UVMs new
grounds manager, only thirty of the more than one-hundred elms were still
standing. By the 1980s, they were down to six. Today, there are two.
not to repeat history, Streeter developed a replanting scheme focused
on diversifying the collection so that it would be less vulnerable to
an epidemic. He chose native and exotic species that could survive Vermonts
climate. Along with a range of natives like maples, oaks, ashes and hickories,
he tried out tulip poplars and some disease resistant hybrid elms and
added many crabapples (the dominant Green species by sheer numbers) for
spring color. My favorite among the exotics is the Dawn Redwood, a deciduous
conifer native to China that Streeter transplanted to the Green. Discovered
in the fossil record in 1941, this tree with the satisfying scientific
name Metasequoia glyptostroboides was later found growing in the wild.
The Arnold Arboretum in Boston collected seeds, but the trees are still
Green today is an eclectic collection of trees and shrubs, some arranged
in patterns, like the crabapples around the fountain in the center. Others
are widely dispersed the looming firs and spruces, especially beautiful
in winter, near Main Street. High above, a few awkward elm branches and
scraggly white pines bring to mind earlier eras. The Ice Storm of 1998
hit the Green hard, but evidence of the resilience of nature and skill
of UVMs grounds crews blooms each May just as students are burrowing
proposal, floated by Stephanie Kaza, professor in the Environmental Program,
was to turn the whole campus into an arboretum. Though that idea has not
been adopted as a campus-wide plan, Plant and Soil Science Professor Mark
Starrett keeps a list of the species to be added when trees are replaced
on the Green, which wont be seeing any additional plantings since
it has been declared full. Starretts list was compiled with an eye
toward building the teaching collection for students of dendrology and
metal disks on the Greens trees have a number linking each one to
a database that gives the species name and details about its health and
maintenance. Its a subtle clue to the plants dual role contributing
to both the beauty and the brains of campus. In ethnobotany classes, for
instance, we gather round the trees to discuss how the Abenaki, early
settlers, and people in other parts of the world have related to these
plants. Ginkgo, sugar maple, cedar, lilac, spruce, oak each has
stories about its value as food, fiber, medicine, or symbol.
college professors, college landscapes teach lessons and express values.
As we take a hand in the future of the UVM Green, its my hope that
well shape a space that reflects todays ideals of environment
and community. As the Green continues to evolve, the university would
do well to learn from the significant role of past students such as the
enterprising Alvin Twing or those who planted the beloved elms.
their 19th-century counterparts, today's UVM students are rich in ideas
and energy. They come to me full of inspiration from classes on ecodesign,
permaculture, natural history, sustainable agriculture, herbalism, and
traditional ecological knowledge. They want to transform the campus, demonstrate
low-maintenance plantings, native species, roof-top gardening, wildlife
plantings, and natural communities of Vermont. They want an arboretum.
They want outdoor meeting places. They want to invite the larger community,
especially children, to come and learn. In fact, they want to reinforce
a sense of home on this campus, a home that reflects new ideas of how
we all can live in this world as a community. What better place to start
than on Ira Allens acres?