Chester, Pa.—Widener University has acquired the Taylor Memorial Arboretum, a 30-acre reserve of plantings and natural lands located about a mile north of the university in Nether Providence Township. The arboretum will remain free and open to the public while providing the university with greatly expanded opportunities for research and hands-on learning in the environmental and biological sciences and science education.
The university acquired the arboretum, which has been held in trust since 1946, from BNY Mellon. According to Widener President Julie E. Wollman, the arboretum will be renamed the Taylor Arboretum at Widener University to ensure that the Taylor affiliation and the original mission remain front and center.
“The Taylor Arboretum is a local treasure of natural beauty and Widener University is dedicated to preserving the original intent of the trust to promote the health, enjoyment and education of the public in perpetuity,” Wollman said. “In addition, the arboretum will provide an exceptional setting to engage Widener students beyond what they can achieve in a typical classroom or laboratory setting.”
The site of the arboretum was once part of a thousand acre land grant sold to John Sharpless by William Penn in 1682. From 1740 to 1882, the grounds were part of an industrial mill complex that produced lumber, grain and textiles. Joshua C. Taylor, a Chester lawyer, purchased the property in 1914 and the arboretum was dedicated in 1931 to the memory of his wife, Anne Rulon Gray. The trust was established upon Taylor’s death in 1946.
Most of the plant collections and specimens on the grounds were planted in the 1950s. The arboretum includes champion trees including a Giant Dogwood, Korea Juniper and a Lacebark Elm, which are the largest of their species in the state. The arboretum also boasts mature collections of dogwoods, magnolias and hollies, and in recent years, plants native to the region such as shadbush and viburnums have been planted. The Ridley Creek borders the property, which is also home to a variety of wildlife native to the area.
According to Dr. Stephen Madigosky, chair of the environmental science department at Widener, the university has been utilizing the arboretum for environmental and biological research for nearly 20 years. Faculty and students have researched the various flora and fauna at the arboretum and have conducted several water quality studies of the Ridley Creek.
“It’s a beautiful piece of property with unlimited research potential,” Madigosky said. “With the arboretum as part of the university, it will open up a greater degree of possibilities which is important when we are doing field related research.”
The university also plans on utilizing the arboretum to interface with the community on citizen science projects, a new approach to engage with the community by providing non-scientists with the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to scientific research.
“Taylor Arboretum at Widener University is a perfect place to institute such measures and augment the university’s commitment to public service,” Madigosky said. “We believe that Joshua Taylor would look very favorably upon what we have planned for the arboretum. It is in line with what he had envisioned for the property so many years ago.”
The acquisition of the arboretum comes just weeks after the university announced the purchase of a five-acre property in Costa Rica named CARES21 (short for Consortium of Agro-ecological Research and Education for Sustainability for the 21st Century). It will provide a base for existing projects and to develop new research in in one of the world’s most bio-diverse countries. The university’s efforts in Costa Rica have led to the creation of WU Brew, Widener’s own brand of environmentally friendly coffee.
“With the Taylor Arboretum, CARES21 and WU Brew, Widener is providing students with access to research, experiential learning and civic engagement opportunities that simply aren’t available at most universities,” Wollman said. “Combine that with the high-impact learning practices that are the focus of the curriculum, and Widener is able to provide students with an unparalleled educational experience.”
The arboretum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is not to be confused with the Tyler Arboretum, which is located further north in Media. For more information on the Taylor Arboretum, visit www.taylorarboretum.org.