Across Nichols Arboretum yesterday, visitors went about their daily routines. Joggers jogged, skiers glided across the melting snow and squirrels rustled in the trees.

Sarah Royce
The Nichols Arboretum celebrated its 100th birthday yesterday. The 123-acre park was established in 1907 with a donation of land by the Nichols family. (PETER SCHOTTENFELS/Daily)

Few in the Arb realized that yesterday was the centennial of the establishment of the 123-acre park.

There is a timeline outlining the history of both the Arboretum and the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, which were established on the same date in 1907, on display until April in the James D. Reader, Jr. Urban Environmental Education Center, a house at the western edge of the Arb which serves as its welcome center.

According to the timeline, an estimated 200,000 people visit the Arb each year.

A request for a botanical garden was included in the original University charter in 1817, but the designated land and plans for the Arb weren’t finalized until 1907.

In 1837, a professor named Asa Gray proposed that the University set aside the eastern half of campus for a garden, but plans were scrapped, leaving the proposed garden in limbo for almost 90 years.

The Arb didn’t take root until 1907, when the Nichols family donated a tract of undeveloped land to the University. It had enough property for the University to piece together 80 acres near the Huron River for the creation of the Arb and Gardens. In 1921, Civil Engineering Prof. F.N. Menefee proposed damming the river to create a winter sports park for students, but nature-lovers successfully campaigned against the project, preserving the Arb.

The Arb reached its present size when the Detroit Edison electric company donated a 9-acre wildflower field.

The Arb is currently undergoing a project to stabilize the Huron riverfront. The concrete slabs on the riverbanks are being removed and replaced by native rocks, soil and plants. In another project, invasive species are being removed and native grasses and flowers are being replanted.

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