When President G. Tyler Miller purchased the last 240 acres of the Newman Farm in 1952, no one envisioned that part of the once cattle-filled swale and forest, now the eastern border of the university grounds, would one day be the most beautiful spot on campus.
But today, few would argue otherwise. The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, the only public-oriented arboretum at a Virginia school, is a gem, both visually and educationally.
The idea of a campus arboretum germinated in the early 1960s when botany Professor Norlyn Bodkin came to Madison College. It would take enormous persistence, persuasion and patience, but in 1985, after JMU President Carrier and key community members got behind the effort, a road was carved to access the area and planting began in the arboretum.
The result was a natural preserve staked in the middle of a growing city and campus. The arboretum officially opened in 1989. It was permanently named the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum in honor of the university's fourth first lady in 1998.
Over the first few years, thousands of plants were introduced, a pavilion was built to host lectures and trails were blazed through the “college woods,” as they were then known. Almost immediately, the arboretum became a signature picture for JMU.
Of the 125-acre arboretum, 87 acres are wooded with hickory and oak trees that Bodkin believes were seeded around the turn of the century, just a few years before the first students arrived on campus. In 1998, the arboretum's forest was named in Bodkin's honor.
The arboretum acreage had already been used for teaching. Biology Head Gilbert Trelawny used the Newman farmland and the woods for field studies. Biology Professor James Grimm ran entomology studies on the pond. Now the community could benefit similarly.
The arboretum has become an outdoor classroom for the community as well as for JMU students, offering programs year-round. The acreage features environments for a multitude of flora and fauna, making it a popular destination for school groups, tour groups, visitors - and for brides and grooms. More than 90 weddings have taken place at the arboretum since 2001.
The Frances Plecker Educational Building, a new learning center being constructed at the arboretum, will provide year-round classroom, meeting and work space for the staff.
-- Martha B. Graham