1867 - Construction of the Durfee Plant House
Designed by Mr. T.A. Lord of Syracuse, N.Y., the original structure was an elegant group of glass buildings with curvilinear roofs trimmed with wrought iron filigree. It was named after its benefactor and college trustee, Dr. Nathan Durfee, who generously gave $10,000 for the construction costs, which included the heating and water system. The five independent sections in the Conservatory each had separate temperature and moisture levels controlled by a resident caretaker. His job included not only watering the plants but also tending the wood-coal furnaces round the clock. The glass sections included: Dry Stove (cacti and succulent plants), Moist Stove (true tropical species), Palm House (larger species of tropical trees and shrubs), Camellia House (cool temperate zone trees and shrubs) and Victoria House (aquatic and air plants). Space was also provided for a potting and work room and two attached propagating pits each 50 by 12 feet.
The ingenious watering and heating system was devised specially for the greenhouses. A reservoir was constructed on the north hill behind Durfee. This provided an abundant source of soft water, which was heated and aerated in a holding tank over the potting room and boilers. From the tank the hot water was conducted in iron pipes to heat all parts of the Conservatory as required. It flowed with sufficient force to feed a fountain in the Victorian House and a large exterior fountain, and to shower all the glasshouse plants at periodic intervals. This was a significant engineering feat, for the area needing to be serviced was extensive. The completed Durfee structure occupied more than 10,000 square feet. Durfee was the first great glasshouse for hundreds of miles and predated Smith College's Lyman Plant House by nearly 30 years. Men and women came from near and far to see the giant water lily of the Amazon (Victoria regia) or gaze at the odd leaves and fruit of great Monstera deliciosa. This special world under glass soon became a celebrated place of attention. How often the reclusive poet, Emily Dickinson (1830-86), visited this attraction within a mile of her home can only be conjectured. The father of this 'notional young lady,' the honorable Judge Edward Dickinson, was a founding trustee of the College. It seems likely that he brought his daughter to view the pastoral setting of the fledgling school. Her love of gardens and flowers was to find its way into poetic expression in many published poems. Perhaps in Durfee she wistfully penned,
"We introduce ourselves
to Planets and to flowers."
In total, the Durfee 'holdings encompassed 73 acres and were secured for the college when Nathan Durfee bought them with ,000 of his won money. It was the true heart and soul of the original 'Aggie' campus. Manicured walkways edged the open fields. Coldframes, flower plots, gardens and fields were cultivated with great care and attention, creating an impressive landscape of beauty and utility.
This is an excerpt from John Tristan's book,
A History of the Durfee Conservatory 1867-1992
Published by Sara Publishing © 1992
All rights reserved.