The Durfee Conservatory
Durfee Conservatory

History: 1934 - Part of Harvard Collection Donated to Durfee

The new era of horticultural study, with its obvious and necessary emphasis on modern commercial production and research, began to flourish in the new French Hall greenhouses. For the first time, attention shifted away from the Durfee Conservatory as a botanical showplace, diminishing its stature from its past glory days. Specialization, political considerations, and economic factors were to create a new order. Botany and Floriculture agreed to become separate departments and the primary care of Durfee became the responsibility of the new and more affluent Department of Floriculture.

The Botany Department continued to maintain an interest in the welfare of Durfee, however, and played a significant role in its improvement. The west octagon and aquatic sections were assigned for the use of the Botany Department for instructive purposes. Ray Ethan Torrey, the renowned botanist, designed much of the actual layout for a spectacular display. The pool was rebuilt and replanted to represent a stream overhung by tropical vegetation containing an array of newly purchased plants of botanic and economic interest. Clark Thayer, professor of Floriculture, generously donated plants. Cooperation between the two departments proved to be a great benefit to Durfee's continued success.

Torrey, an influential and much respected figure, managed to acquire a breath-taking gift on behalf of the college which, in 1931, had become Massachusetts State College. In 1934, he received most of Harvard's collection of tropical plants dating back to the time of famed botanist Asa Gray. Torrey personally drove to Cambridge to oversee the dispatch of three great truckloads to Amherst.

A plain wooden case systematically indexed with descriptive cards inventoried the collection and was carefully prepared for the journey. The botanical collection was a generous bequest, and Durfee was reorganized to accommodate it.

This is an edited excerpt from John Tristan's book,
A History of the Durfee Conservatory 1867-1992
Published by Sara Publishing © 1992
All rights reserved.