Landscaping and Trees

Commemorative Landscape Map

Ginko Tree Magnolia Tree


With the exception of the tower of King Chapel, the most noticeable feature of Cornell's campus is its trees. One of the first to be planted on the Hilltop was the male ginkgo that stands just east of the President's House. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources this ginkgo is today the largest tree of its kind in Iowa. It was brought here from China or Japan in 1850, three years before the college was founded.

Samuel Fellows, the first principal of the Iowa Conference Seminary (1853-57) and the second president of Cornell College (1859-63), used to send his students to the Cedar River to dig up saplings and transplant them on campus. In 1870 the college newspaper reported: "It has for many years been a custom for the Junior class to select a suitable spot on the college campus and plant a tree of some kind for each member of the class." These trees and those planted for many years to come were obtained free of charge from the river bank.

Perhaps inspired by the fact that in 1872 the State of Nebraska had established April 10 as Arbor Day (the first such official celebration in the nation), Acting President Hugh Boyd (1873-74) declared a school holiday and led a group of students in planting 300 hard maple saplings "on the front campus."

On May 30, 1936, two magnolia trees were planted behind Law Hall in honor of Biology Professor Harry Kelly, who had died on April 10. (One of those trees is still living today.) Cornell Trustee Archie Carter, Class of 1933, gave the college 57 trees in 1976 in memory of his parents. Members of various social groups planted the trees on campus. They included white pine, Scotch pine, Douglas fir, oak, ash, walnut, hickory, and maple.

On April 4, 1978, The Students for Black People planted an evergreen tree behind King Chapel on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. On April 20, 1985, as part of the inaugural ceremonies, President and Mrs. David Marker planted a variegated maple tree east of Old Sem. The long tradition of tree planting has turned the Hilltop into a beautiful campus. It is a tradition that must be continued in order to offset the continual loss of existing trees to disease and storms.

~Written in 1986 by Charles Milhauser, Registrar and Professor of Classics Emeritus