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Author Martha Van Artsdalen

Martha Van Artsdalen, plant curator for the Haverford College Arboretum, is a former newspaper editor with a journalism degree from Syracuse University. She also is a graduate of the Barnes Foundation School of Horticulture, recipient of the Longwood Gardens Certificates I and II in Ornamental Horticulture and a Penn State Master Gardener. In this book, she combines a knowledge of Haverford’s tree collection with an interest in people and their histories to bring the story of the college’s landscape to life. All photographs are courtesy of the Quaker & Special Collections, Haverford College.

What is your position at the Haverford Arboretum?

I am the plant curator.

What inspired you to write this book?

There’s history hiding in the landscape of Haverford College, a nearly 200-year evolution from farm fields to campus lawns. I find this history fascinating, and I believe that others will as well. Most of all, I don’t want this history to be lost.


Can you share some stories about people you met while researching your book?


The granddaughter of a college president remembers often riding in the wagon with handyman Lou Coursey and stopping by the big granite fountain at Walton Field so the horse could take a drink. One man, now in his 90s, says he and the other “faculty brats” had “the run of the place.” They built tree houses, played ball in the fields where the parking lot now stands, and, on one exciting day, watched the barn burn down. And everyone had fond memories of skating on the frozen pond, drinking hot chocolate, and warming up in the skate house.

What did you enjoy most about writing your book?

I discovered some unexpected and wonderful old photographs. For example, train tracks running along what is today Railroad Avenue, Meetinghouse Walk when it was only a wooden walkway lined with linden trees rather than today’s slate path and allée of ginkgo trees, and 19th century photos of students in woolen suits, relaxing around Founders Green or riding high-wheel bicycles down College Lane.


What part of the Haverford College Arboretum is your favorite spot?

The Nature Trail. Haverford College is surrounded by traffic, stores, train lines and tight blocks of houses. Yet, get out on the Nature Trail and it’s almost like being in the country rather than suburbia. I’ve seen Baltimore orioles and cedar wax-wings; deer and even an occasional fox.

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Haverford College Arboretum
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