Davidson College's 600-acre campus has been a national arboretum since 1986, but the dream, and solicitous care of the trees and grounds began well before the Civil War.
In 1855, "a few ladies of Davidson College" proposed landscape remodeling to the Board of Trustees and the first whisper of the arboretum became a shared and cherished dream at Davidson College. In 1861, students took matters in their own hands by organizing tree plantings. In 1869, the faculty approached the Board of Trustees once again proposing, "make the campus and its contents represent in time the forest growth of the state, and, if possible, the general botany of the region."
While the plan did not receive an official designation, more than 100 years of time, care, and effort was applied to the planting of the Davidson campus. Grounds supervisors and landscape architects began populating the college's campus with all sorts of exotic as well as indigenous fauna. Even future president Woodrow Wilson is rumored to have planted a tree during his time as a student at Davidson, writing "from the woods a tree and plant[ing] it properly."
Then in 1982, then President Samuel R. Spencer Jr., received a letter from the director of the National Arboretum in Washington D.C., Henry Cathey, urging him to use the grounds as a working arboretum. In the same mail was a large check from the estate of Edwin Latimer Douglass, one of whose life interests had been forestry.
Thanks to the Douglass estate, aerial photos were taken and topographical maps drawn up. Since then, students and Physical Plant workers have contributed to the continuing project of labeling and caring for the trees on campus. Some 3,000 woody trees and shrubs have been labeled, five of which were extinct on the North American continent from 2 to 50 million years ago.