Double Row of Elms
In 1879, the State Board of Agriculture declared that a double row of American Elm trees should be planted along the entire length of the college’s northern boundary, running along both Michigan Avenue and Grand River Avenue. Professor Beal, irked that the Board had made this decision “without the knowledge of or consultation with the professor of horticulture”—i.e. himself—nonetheless took part in the planting of one row on either side of the perimeter fence. The trees thrived over the years and presented a lovely, wooded-yet-cultured aspect to the public face of the school. (Beal, whether casting the cool eye of a scientist or merely maintaining a grudge, wrote that the trees “proved to be an uneven, and mostly a ragged lot, varying much in form [and] astonishingly in size.”)[Beal, p. 260. Lautner, pp. 43, 50]
The Board voted in 1922 to support the City in the creation of a boulevard along Michigan and Grand River Avenues. By 1925 both streets had been widened by placing a portion of the college grounds into the right-of-way, resulting in the double row of elms being located in the grassy median between the separated eastbound and westbound lanes. The trees, by then large and mature, contributed a tremendous grandeur to the thoroughfare. Years later Professor Harold Lautner wrote, “Beal could not know how impressive these stately elms appeared to a ‘green’ freshman student.”[Lautner, p. 50]
Sadly, creation of the boulevard contributed to the trees’ demise, as their root systems were restricted and starved by the pavement. In addition, salt-laden spray from passing vehicles during the winter months weakened the trees. Finally, the blight of Dutch elm disease that decimated the American Elm population throughout North America took its toll. By the late 1960s, the last of the elms in the boulevard had died off.