Two Great Locations, One Organization


In 1907, the University created a Botanical Garden and Arboretum on the land between Geddes Road and the Huron River, just a few blocks from Central Campus on the site now known as Nichols Arboretum. At the time, the property consisted of approximately 80 acres. Today, more than 100 years later, the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum manages over 700 acres of gardens, research areas, and natural preserves around the Ann Arbor area with a complex of conservatory, greenhouses, laboratory, teaching and meeting spaces at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and the James D. Reader, Jr. Center for Urban Environmental Education at Nichols Arboretum. Listed below is a short timeline of our history. Scroll to the bottom of the page for a detailed history written for our 100th anniversary.

Dedication day in June 1962
1817 Founders of the University of Michigan note their desire for “useful literary and scientific institutions” in the university’s charter in 1817. The assumption has been that this included botanical gardens.
1854 D. A. Pettibone map of the University in 1854 shows the eastern third of campus (between State, N. University, E. University and S. University) to be a proposed botanical garden.
1897 Professors Julius Schlotterbeck and Volney M. Spaulding plant gardens on campus in conjunction with the School of Pharmacy and the Department of Botany.
1899 Professor Schlotterbeck and Professor Frederick C. Newcombe begin search for alternate botanical garden site. Among the most highly considered sites was the Felch Park property (where the Power Center now sits) and the “Cat-Hole” (where the Life Sciences complex and Power Plant now reside). Landscape Architect Ossian Cole Simonds is hired to evaluate possible sites.
1906 Proposal is made to create botanical garden and arboretum as joint project between University and City of Ann Arbor, combining a gift of land from the Walter and Esther Nichols family together with the Woodmansee and Mummery tracts for approximately 80 acres. O. C. Simonds prepares plan for the new botanical garden and arboretum.
1907 University establishes the University of Michigan Botanical Garden and Arboretum in the Department of Botany with George P. Burns as first Director.
1914 The University purchases site on Iroquois and begins development of greenhouses, formal plantings and experimental plots that would become the new Botanical Garden. Beginning that same year, a committee made up of faculty from the College of Pharmacy, Department of Botany, Department of Forestry and the Department of Landscape Design formed to oversee the Arboretum.
1916 Botanical Garden relocates to new site on Iroquois Street with Henry A. Gleason as Director. Geddes site transferred to the Department of Landscape Design with Professor Aubrey Tealdi named as Director.
1921 1921 Proposal by Civil Engineering Professor F. N. Menefee would abandon arboretum and redevelop property as winter sports complex for students.
1923 Geddes site is renamed as “Nichols Arboretum” by Regents.
1934 Task force re-affirms Nichols Arboretum noting that it would “become a haven of quiet one hundred years from now when our rich native flora will have become a thing of the past in most places.” University recommits resources to help police and manage the Arboretum.
1943 Detroit Edison donates 36 acres, including Alex Dow Field, to be added to Nichols Arboretum.
1951 Mr. and Mrs. James Inglis donate Inglis House and the nine-acre property to the University. Land is managed by Nichols Arboretum.
1954 Professor Frederick K. Sparrow heads up faculty committee to examine the future of the Botanical Garden on the retirement of Harley H. Bartlett in 1955. Committee advises relocation of the Botanical Gardens to a new site within reasonable distance of campus.
1957 With the leadership of Director A. Geoffrey Norman, the University decides to relocate the Botanical Garden to 200 acres donated by Frederick C. and Mildred H. Matthaei and additional lands purchased by the University. Architect Alden B. Dow designs the complex of buildings.
1962 Dedication of the Botanical Gardens at the Dixboro site.
1965 The conservatory and auditorium are completed at the Botanical Garden site, the same year Horner Woods is added.
1967 Botanical Gardens site is renamed Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
1974 Formation of the Friends of Matthaei Botanical Gardens to support programs and activities at Botanical Gardens.
1991 Friends of Nichols Arboretum established to provide support for the Arboretum.
1998 Burnham House is moved from Wall Street to the Washington Heights entrance to Nichols Arboretum and refurbished as the James D. Reader, Jr. Urban Environmental Education Center (dedicated in 1999).
2003 Associate Provost Janet Weiss heads committee to explore the possible alliance of Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. Committee proposes a combining of the two units.
2004 Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum combined as one administrative unit within the University.
2007 100th Anniversary celebration for Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum.

Click here to download a detailed Matthaei-Nichols history (PDF).

Peony garden 1927