Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


College Cabin and Witmer Woods

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Institution Name: Goshen College
Original/Historic Place Name: College Cabin and Witmer Woods
Location on Campus: west side of S. Main St.
Date(s) of Construction:
1941original construction Rose, James C. Cares, Charles W.
1954fallow agricultural field reforestation
Designer: James C. Rose; Charles W. Cares
Type of Place: Landscape site
Style: (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, landscape
Narrative: see below
References: see below

The acquisition and development of Witmer Woods represents a series of individual and group (student, faculty, & institutional) collaborative efforts to meet a combination of recreational and academic needs. At the college's founding in 1903, tracts of land west and south of campus extending to the Elkhart River & millrace were wooded or agricultural. In 1941, fearing the loss of such spaces to impending residential development, college professor Glen Miller organized an initial purchase of 2 acres along the waterfront. The graduating class that year raised funds and provided labor to build a cabin for recreational gatherings on that property, presenting the cabin to the institution as a class gift. Another college employee (J. E. Brunk) purchased an adjacent 13-acre field in 1941, deeding it to the college's controlling body, the Mennonite Board of Education, in 1944. Initial oversight of the property was provided by the Faculty Athletic Committee, reflecting the recreational intent of the original purchase. By 1954, the Teacher Education Committee and Audubon Club were working together with the Athletic Committee to broaden the development of the property as woodlands, useful for the study of local plants and trees. They worked with state forestry officials in the selection and transplanting of over 500 trees, with students and faculty providing labor. In 1955, another graduating class donated a pavilion-style picnic shelter with a stone firepit on the grounds. In 1959-1960, the College Woods were renamed Witmer Woods in honor of longtime biology professor Samuel W. Witmer, whose interest in native plants and trees helped shape the property's development. In 1960, the college reiterated the property's purposes as "(1) educational, particularly in courses such as biology, botany, and agriculture, (2) recreational, and (3) aesthetic." Landscape architects James C. Rose (1913-1991) of New York City and Charles W. Cares (Univ. of Michigan) worked at refining the earlier state forestry development plan. Ownership and development of this property over the years helped prepare the college for the stewardship necessary to maintain and develop the much larger Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center in the 1980s. In 1996, the college's Board of Overseers considered constructing a residence for the college president on a section of the Witmer Woods property, sparking a controversy that ended in reaffirmation of the environmental and recreational principles that had guided the property's earlier use. In 1998, the college developed a meditation garden, with more native plants and a cairn of stones from around the world donated by students and alumni.


Umble, John S. Goshen College, 1894-1954: A Venture In Christian Higher Education. Goshen, IN: Goshen College, 1954.


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