Question of the Week
What was the name of the summer estate that would become the Morris Arboretum?
Located in Philadelphia's Chestnut Hill neighborhood, the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania is a historic public garden and educational institution that serves as the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was bequeathed to the University of Pennsylvania in 1932 by Lydia Thompson Morris, who began purchasing the land for the Arboretum with her brother John in 1887. For several decades the arboretum was part of the university's botany department, until it became established as the separate Interdisciplinary Resource Center of the Penn in 1975. Among other notable botanical and structural features, the arboretum is home to about 2,500 types of plants, many of the Delaware Valley’s "trees-of-record," and the only remaining freestanding Victorian fernery in North America.
John and Lydia Morris were the children of Isaac P. Morris (of the Morris family of Philadelphia) and head of the I. P. Morris Company. This iron foundry was founded by Morris in 1828 and was located at 16th and Chestnut Streets. Through its production of items such as steam engines, presses, and pumps, the company made considerable money for the family. Compton, designed by Theophilus Parsons Chandler, Jr. was the family's summer home in Chestnut Hill. Both John and Lydia were stewards of art and agriculture, and the collected knowledge, plants, and artifacts from their world travels, were put into place at Compton.
Both John and Lydia developed plans for Compton to become a school of horticulture and botany. John Morris died in 1915 and Lydia continued to push for this. When she died in January 1932, her will stated that Compton, as well as the adjoining estate, Bloomfield, should be devoted to the purposes of forming the Morris Arboretum on the University of Pennsylvania. The arboretum was dedicated in 1933 and today serves as an agricultural and environmental educational facility, with extensive research and outreach resources.
The society houses several different collections of Morris family papers, which can be found through our online catalog Discover. Additionally, some published material relating to the Morris Arboretum, such as newsletters, is available in our library.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.