Just beneath the tangle of trees and shrubs, the Frostburg State University Arboretum as we know it today reflects its long and unique history, a history that mirrors the land use changes common in our region.
Until the 1750's, French frontiersmen and Native Americans claimed all the land of the Mississippi and St. Lawrence River watersheds. But the British colonists (the future Americans) wanted to grow and expand west, thus the French and Indian War began. In 1755, General Braddock, sent from Britain to command forces in America, assembled an army in Cumberland that included George Washington. The British army, under Braddock's command, marched through Frostburg in 1755 on its way to attack Fort Duquesne, near modern-day Pittsburgh. The army used a trail that went through the Arboretum near Sand Spring Run. This was the same trail that George Washington, accompanied by Delaware chief Nemacolin, had used in his journeys west prior to the start of the war. John Kennedy Lacock in 1912 and Bob Bantz in 2002 both confirmed that Braddock's Trail does pass through the Arboretum. Prior to the construction of the National Road (now Route 40), numerous wagon trains passed right through our Arboretum on their way to the western frontiers.
As early as 1803, there is evidence of the Musselman farm on Arboretum land. Some residents state that there was also a grist mill on the land. The mill ground grain into flour, and was likely powered by water from Sand Spring Run. During the 1950s the hillside to the west and across University Boulevard was covered in buckwheat.
Deep mining and strip mining have been practiced in our regions since the 1800's, and some Arboretum land has been mined. In fact, the strip mining has continued through to the present and can be seen close to campus. There have been comments made that Sand Spring Run has been moved, and although it seems plausible, it has not been verified.
The Arboretum as we know it today began in the 1970's. Although not specifically named, most agree that Dr. Melvin Brown began the chapter we are continuing today. An article dated 1974 states that "The Biology Department was given the acres of land for the construction of the Frostburg State College Arboretum." In 1974, the Tri-Beta Biology Fraternity wrote an article in State-to-Date in hopes of saving the Arboretum from becoming athletic fields. Petitions were distributed and signed by the majority of the students and given to the Administration.
A second article in State-to-Date of November 1974 indicates that the Biology Department was frantically trying to save the Arboretum. A field already existed in the original acreage given to the Biology Department. The fear was that more land needed for expanding athletic fields would leave the Biology Department with the area over the strip mine where it will be difficult to maintain viable vegetation and ultimately wildlife. The College's Building and Ground Committee asked the Maryland Department of General Services and the State Landscaper to reevaluate the plan. A decision was to be forthcoming. No articles on the decision have been found, but it is obvious that most or all of the Arboretum's land was retained.
An article dated January 30, 1983 has the original size at 9.5 acres. At this time, the flora and fauna are described as healthy and an asset for students to use for the study of a natural environment. The Arboretum has been used for ornithology classes, independent studies, studies on woody plants, learning about sub-soil conditions, ecology, and mapping. The Arboretum at this time was divided into four areas:
1) the flood-plain along Sand Spring Run;
2) an upland forest behind Westminster Hall that has shale soil due to an abandoned underground mine;
3) an area of deep thickets with vegetation from farm and pasture; and
4) an area with lilac, apple trees, and ornamental vegetation directly behind the football field that reflects the farm mentioned above.
This area was referred to as the "Old Farmstead, an old stone house (see photo)." This is the location that, according to long-time resident Vince Zumbrano, included the Musselman farm and grist mill. Supposedly part of the house was still standing circa 1943. In 1983 the water well was still visible by a pear tree. The house was destroyed as the University continued to acquire land. The article of 1983 indicates that barbed wire fences were still visible and that much of the vegetation was native while some was planted. The large maple tree was tapped for maple syrup by the Economic Botany class. The Maintenance Department, along with assistance from the Biology Department maintained the Arboretum. Bricks had been laid down to create a pathway, which is still visible today. Informative signs, erected by Beta Beta Beta, have since been lost. An initial goal of the Biology Department was to continue to plant trees throughout the Arboretum.
The Arboretum in 1985 was much different than it appears today. Lack of attention and care between 1985 and 2000 allowed an invasion of several exotic and undesirable plant species.
From 1997-2000, several projects were undertaken in the Arboretum as a community service effort focusing on the teachings of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. A group including Dr. Durland Shumway (formerly in Biology), Ms. Cherie Krug (formerly in Center for Volunteerism), Department of Juvenile Justice, and on-campus volunteer groups received grants to create a MLK Reflection Area, Diversity Gardens, art sculptures, and a gazebo. These efforts and the $23,500 in grant monies, began to rekindle interest in the Arboretum.
In 2002, Dr. Linda Lyon joined the Biology Department and began the current efforts to restore the natural landscape of the Arboretum. The Arboretum Task Force was created in 2004 to bring together interested members of the FSU community to pursue the broad goals of removing invasive plants, reestablishing native plants, and using student and community volunteers to accomplish these tasks.
Between 2004-2007, the Arboretum has received $15,900 in grant monies for volunteerism and restoration projects. Spring 2007 alone had 237 volunteer hours donated, and our progress has been amazing in some areas. Over 1 acre has been cleared of invasive honeysuckle, 5,000-ft2 of meadow is ready to plant, and nearly 100 trees have been planted. But we still have much more to do to reestablish the native ecosystem in the Arboretum.
We have been fortunate to have new faculty Dr. Sunshine Brosi, Dr. Dan Fiscus, and Dr. David Puthoff join the Biology Department and assist continuing our momentum. Please have a look around our website for events, links, and some recent accomplishments.