MC Woods History (1881-2012)

D. Andrew Crain, Ph.D., Professor of Biology
November 26, 2012
  • 1867 60-acre main MC campus deeded from Julius C. Fagg.
  • 1881 MC woods purchased by Thomas Jefferson Lamar ($21 per acre) and sold to MC for $1.
  • 1908 A “Pest House” was constructed in the college woods to isolate students with infectious diseases such as smallpox.[1]
  • 1912: A representative of Davey Tree Company evaluated the college woods.
  • 1917-1918 House in the woods was constructed for the first College Pastor (Dr. Stevenson).
  • 1918  A springhouse was built over a spring to provide water and refrigeration for the house in the woods.
  • 1932  Morningside was constructed as a residence of Mrs. Stevenson’s sister, Mrs. Susan Walker.
  • 1935 Amphitheater was developed as an outdoor theatre and a 7-acre botany garden was planted around it.
  • 1935  The 46-acre Brown Farm was added to the college woods (now site of the Thomson-Brown House, Boys Home, and Blount Co. Justice Center).
  • 1956 70,000 board feet of large pine trees in the woods were cut and sold.
  • 1973  A below-ground sewer line was constructed in the college woods.
  • 1975  The MC farm house was sold to Blount County.
  • 1988  Mountain Challenge builds a ropes course in the college woods.
  • 1991  Tennessee Division of Forestry survey of college woods and developed a “Forest Stewardship Plan.”
  • 1997  The college entered a 50-year lease agreement with Ruby Tuesday, Inc. for the former Morningside Inn.
  • 2000  The college woods were designated as a Stewardship Forest.
  • 2005  Guidelines for use of the Maryville College Woods were instituted.
  • 2012  Two orchard plots were planted on the Northeast side of the college woods.
  • 2020  After years of privet removal, native understory trees and shrubs were planted in the log bridge riparian zone area.

The story of the Maryville College woods begins in 1881, when Thomas Jefferson Lamar (considered the “second founder” of Maryville College due to his efforts to rebuild and reestablish the college after the Civil War) purchased the woods for $21 per acre and sold them to the college for $1.[2]  

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The first comprehensive evaluation of the woods occurred in 1912, thirty-one years after the woods were added to campus, by Davey Tree Company.[3] This comprehensive survey concluded, among other things that:

“None of the trees should be taken out for commercial purposes. They are too valuable from a park standpoint to be given up to commercial use.  These oaks are good for a hundred years.”


“In our deciduous forest it would be well to add trees of the same varieties that now exist, and not to add chestnuts, for the disease that is destroying chestnut trees, though now hundreds of miles away, will probably reach here before very long, and then the entire forest would be injured.”


These early years of the MC woods are characterized by active management, as illustrated by a recommendation from the Executive Committee and passed by the Board of Directors June 5, 1919:

“That the woodlands be cleared from fallen timbers, brush and objectionable undergrowth.  In parts of the woodland there are undergrowths that can never be developed into anything useful, which are the extreme from ornamental, and afford hiding places for questionable characters to assemble for improper purposes.”[4]


The first major structure was added to the woods in 1917.  The “House in the Woods” was built in 1917 due to the benevolence of the college’s first pastor, Dr. William Patton Stevenson. [5] Dr. Stevenson was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Yonker’s New York when he learned of the story of Maryville College.  Having “learned that the College had urgent need of a pastor but no funds with which to pay a salary”, Stevenson resigned his pastorate, funded the building of The House in the Woods as a parsonage (in addition, Stevenson created an endowment to pay future pastors, and never accepted any salary during his 23-year tenure at Maryville College).  The Spring House just down the hill from the House in the Woods is thought to have served early refrigeration for the Stevenson’s.[6]  The House in the Woods received a much-needed renovation in 2002 as a result of a Lily Grant funding exploration of vocation.


A second major structure was built in 1932 as a home for the sister of Mrs. Stevenson, Mrs. John (Susan) Walker.  Currently known as the Ruby Tuesday Lodge, Mrs. Walker funded the building of a seventeen room house (she and her late husband had wealth from associations with Andrew Carnegie) and began extensive landscaping (including English ivy) around the home she called Morningside.3 When Mrs. Walker died in December of 1950, the Board of Directors assigned it as the President’s residence.[7] MC Presidents resided at Morningside from 1951-1977, where after the residence was home to Lloyd Langston (class of 1913) and photographer Tillman Crane.[8]  From 1985 through 1996, Morningside served as a Restaurant and slowly fell into disrepair until it was leased, renovated, and expanded by Ruby Tuesday, Inc. in 1997.


Mrs. Walker was devoted to beautification and utilization of the Maryville College woods, and in 1935 she planned and oversaw establishment of the amphitheater along the edge of Duncan Branch creek to serve as an outdoor gathering place for religious services and theatrical performances.  The original crossing of Duncan Branch to access the amphitheater was an elevated bridge on the back left (east) of the current amphitheater.[9] [10]   Behind the amphitheater, Mrs. Walker designed and installed a 7-acre botany garden beginning at the back of the amphitheater.[11]  In addition, Mrs. Walker supervised the building of trails through the college woods and helped establish the current picnic area across the log bridge.10 By 1969, the amphitheater area was considered “one of the most beautiful and spacious outdoor theaters to be found on any college campus.”[12]


The same year the amphitheater was established, a cabin, now nonexistent, was built by Hal Lloyd, Sam Crawford, and Roy Crawford with the help of Mrs. Walker.  Called “The Hut,” this cabin was located near Morningside and served as a recreational facility for the three adolescent boys (Sam Crawford and Hal Lloyd were in 8th grade and Roy Crawford a freshman in high school when the Hut was built).[13]


The 1940s brought slight use of the woods resources for campus needs.  For instance in the winter of 1945, the Maintenance department sawed “logs in the college woods for the general use in the workshops and on the college farm.”[14] More extensive use of timber was undertaken in 1956, when the Finance Committee of the Board of Directors authorized President Lloyd to “sell the timber in the College woods to the company making the best price and working conditions in the interest of Maryville College.”[15]  The authorization protected two areas, however, that around the President’s home (Morningside) and the amphitheater.  This resulted in approximately 70,000 board feet of pines to be selectively cut between the College Cemetery and the picnic area (across the log bridge).[16]  This yielded the college $9,050 as of the end of October 1956, but pulpwood harvesting was still ongoing.[17]


Years later, President Lloyd expressed caution about future logging of the college woods.  In 1969, thirteen years after the logging, he wrote:

“The College Woods have been one of the most prized features of the campus since 1881.  But the tall oak trees there have meant problems as well as beauty and inspiration.  Although oaks are long lived, time and storm take their toll.  Shall trees be allowed to stand until they fall, then be used in the decreasing number of fireplaces?  Or shall they be cut when ripe in the judgment of foresters with eyes for good saleable lumber?  The former course, dictated by educational and aesthetic concern, has been followed except for brief periods.  For instance, as a business venture in the mid-1950’s, a rather large number of the big trees were marked, felled, and sold.  This produced some extra income for that year.  But cleaning up the woods afterward was a long process, and college officials, realizing that it takes a century to grow a tall oak tree, will be slow to give economic considerations priority in College Woods policy.” [18]


From the 1950s through the 1980s, numerous student organizations worked in the college woods to maintain woods health and functionality.[19]  For instance, the September 21, 1984 Highland Echo reports that

“On campus, Circle K plans to work on clearing up the grounds of Morningside, the old Walker home in the college woods.  The picnic area is again suffering from disuse, so Circle K hopes to clear it and strive to keep it clear by promoting its use by campus groups.”[20]


The mountain challenge ropes course was added to the college woods in 1988[21].  Bruce Guillaume (MC ‘ 76) established Mountain Challenge in 1987, taking clients on outdoor adventures that fostered team building; many such excursions utilized the Wesley Woods adventure facilities.  After successfully hosting a session for Sea Ray Boats, the corporate owner of Sea Ray (Brunswick) provided funding for establishing a ropes course in the Maryville College woods.  Currently, approximately 3500 people participate in the ropes course in the MC woods.


In 2000, Maryville College woods were certified under the Stewardship Forest program.[22]  The plan is under the American Tree Farm system, which is a third-party certification system that non-industrial private forest landowners can utilize.  The American Tree Farm system is one of a variety of plans that fit into the Stewardship program that is an initiative to have forests under some kind of management plan.  However, since 2000 no action has been taken under this action plan; indeed, the action plan cannot be located on the Maryville College campus.


Through a grant from the Gibson Fund (established by the MC Board of Directors at the retirement of President Gibson), two large orchards were planted on the northwestern portion of the woods.  In March of 2012, 12 apple, 4 pear, 2 nectarine, and 2 cherry trees were planted in each of two plots (one bordering Brown’s Creek, just across from Smithview Pavilion and the other on the knoll overlooking the Brown’s Creek plot).  Plantings in March of 2013 will bring each plot to a total of 20 apple, 6 pear, 4 nectarine, and 6 cherry trees. 


Recent Woods Controversies

In the past 40 years, two woods issues have provided the most controversy among MC community members: installation of a sewer line through the middle of the college woods and the lease with Ruby Tuesday, Inc.  Both of these situations were partially influenced by infrastructural needs in Maryville City.


In August 1972, the city of Maryville informed the college that a sewer line needed to be installed through the MC woods in order to serve the Washington Street area around the expanding medical offices.[23]  The college offered a bid, which the city rejected, but eventually terms were agreed upon.  The project raised the ire of many community members, exemplified by quotes such as “While we pride our campus for its beauty, how can we allow an open wound to scar the middle of it?”[24] However, it came to light that the city could have taken the land through eminent domain, and that administrators worked in the best interest of the college by requiring installation of sewage taps that could possibly be utilized in the future and requiring grass to be planted over the area to repair the disrupted land.[25]


The second controversial issue in the Maryville College woods is the Ruby Tuesday, Inc. (RTI) lease of the former Morningside Inn.[26]  In addition to the land, this 50-year lease, which began October 1, 1997, also grants RT the use to all private roadways leading to the lodge.  In exchange, the college receives  $37,500 per year (and increased every subsequent 5-years based on U.S. Department of Labor Consumer Price Index).  The decision to enter into a lease agreement with RTI was made based on three factors[27]:

  1. Greatly needed lease revenues for the College ($37,500 annually at first, with escalation at five-year intervals;  as of Oct. 1, 2012 the lease was $52,528 per year).
  2. Enhanced likelihood of gift support from RTI for important projects (such as the subsequent landscaping plan and an annual contribution for maintaining MC grounds from 1997-2007).
  3. Protection against a road bisecting the College Woods (which would be unlikely if a central portion of the Woods were leased by RTI).  Around the time RTI was considering leasing Morningside, Maryville City had inquired with Buildings and Grounds about the future prospect of a road bisecting the Maryville College woods to alleviate city traffic.  Maps were drawn with the bisecting road.


Current Threats

In a Tennessee Division of Forestry survey of the college woods in 1991, a Forest Stewardship Plan for the woods was created.[28]  The Stewardship Plan identified the objectives for management to be (1) forest management for nature study in outdoor teaching laboratories and (2) forest, soil and watershed protection, (3) wildlife management to encourage a variety of wildlife species to enter and live on the area, and (4) recreation.  This comprehensive survey divided the college woods into distinct areas based on vegetation type, and made specific recommendations for managing each area.  Unlike the survey done in 1912, this 1991 survey repeatedly mentions the need to address invasive/exotic plant species.  Excerpts from the survey include:

“Some kudzu exists in the area, and should be controlled before becoming a much larger problem…It is also recommended that chemical herbicides be utilized to ride the area of the kudzu in the area, plus the English Ivy, which is not as bad as the Kudzu, but has started growing in a small area.”


“The Ivy won’t hurt the existing trees, but will interfere with new reproduction in the future, as old trees die and/or are harvested.”


“Some of the English Ivy from Morningside has invaded part of this area also.  This weedy vine probably should be removed from the area by chemical herbicide application, which has also been recommended by SCS in the past…the English Ivy problem in the woods started here, and some control of this problem in the area should be attempted and kept in check from the point of control.”


In 2012, invasive and exotic plant species provide a great threat to the health of the Maryville College woods.  The three most problematic species are English Ivy (Hedera helix), Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense), and Bush Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii).  An evaluation by the University of Tennessee Blount County Agriculture Extension Agent indicated that these invasive/exotics (1) are at a critical level in the MC woods, (2) are adversely affecting native plant species (such as Trillium and mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum), (3) are serving as a source of invasives for Maryville City, and (4) will permanently change the habitat of the Maryville College Woods if left unmanaged. [29] 


There are three sources of English Ivy in the college woods.  Plantings made around Morningside and the House in the woods in the early 1900s have slowly spread to cover the majority of land around these structures.  Additionally, in 1963, English Ivy that covered Anderson Hall was removed due to weakening effects to the mortar of the ancient bricks, and the removed ivy was loaded in the back of pickup trucks and taken down the dirt road in the college woods where it was dumped. [30]  A January 2007 research project conducted by some of the FRS130: Perspectives on the Environment classes confirmed that there are three distinct epicenters of ivy in the college woods, and all of them are growing together. 


Duncan Branch and Brown’s Creek are no longer visible except in heavily managed areas due to the extensive invasion of Chinese Privet, and much of the understory of the college woods is covered with Bush Honeysuckle.  Unlike the English Ivy, no particular date can be identified for the privet and honeysuckle introduction, but photos of the college woods through the 1970s show no such species.[31]


In addition to the threat from invasive and exotic plants, there are several other threats to the health of the college woods including: water quality of the stream and erosion problems due to poor trail maintenance and usage, lack of security in the woods resulting in several instances of vandalism, over-usage on certain days, mountain bikes in certain areas, removal of natural resources, and a lack of institutional control.[32]  As a step toward solving these problems, Guidelines were established and posted at the road entrance to the MC woods.




[1] Building History Notebook.  Communications Office File.  Accessed November 13, 2012.

[2] Lloyd, Ralph Waldo.  1969.  Maryville College: A History of 150 Years, 1819-1969.  Kingsport Press, Kingsport, Tn. Pg. 48.

[3] Mr. Smith, January 24, 1912. “Notes Regarding the College Woods.”  Located in the MC Archives.

[4] Board of Directors Minutes.  June 5, 1919.  Ledger 2, page 136.  Stored in the MC Left Fire-Proof Safe.

[5] Walker, S. When I Look Back and Think.  Undated document in the Maryville College archives.

[6] Hess, Martha.  Personal Communication.  November 6, 2012.

[7] Lloyd, R.W. 1972.  Morningside.  Pg. 11-28. Located in the MC Archives.

[8] Kennedy, Robert.  2008.  Maryville College Structures List.  Located in the MC Archives.

[9] Lester, Happy Huddleston.  2012.  Personal Communication. 

[10] 1930s photo in the MC archives.

[11] Blair, Carolyn and Arda Walker.  1994.  By Faith Endowed: the story of Maryville College, 1819-1995. Pg. 225.

[12] Lloyd, Ralph Waldo.  1969.  Maryville College: A History of 150 Years, 1819-1969.  Kingsport Press, Kingsport, Tn. Pg. 49.

[13] The Story of the Hut.  Chapter 1.  Located in the Maryville College Archives.

[14] Higland Echo.  1945.  Improvements on campus made during Vacation.  January 29, 1945. 

[15] Finance Committee Minutes, Board of Directors.  Maryville College.  April 24, 1956.

[16] Maryville College Woodland Demonstration.  3 page document in the MC archives.  Accessed November 5, 2012.

[17] Finance Committee Minutes. Board of Directors.  Maryville College.  October 30, 1956. 

[18] Lloyd, Ralph Waldo.  1969.  Maryville College: A History of 150 Years, 1819-1969.  Kingsport Press, Kingsport, Tn.

[19] Hess, Martha.  Personal Communication.  November, 2012.

[20] Highland Echo.  September 21, 1984 edition.  Pg. 5.

[21] Accessed November 26, 2012.

[22] Smith, Brook.  Tennessee Division of Forestry Area Forester.  Personal Communication.  November 15, 2012.

[23] The Highland Echo.  1974.  Sewer Project.  Vol. 59: No. 14, pg. 1.

[24] Editors.  1975.  What happened to the woods?  The Highland Echo. October 3, 1975.

[25] Editors.  1975.  Campus woods project explained.  The Highland Echo.  October 10, 1975.

[26] Lease.  1997.  On file in the Maryville College Business Office.  Accessed November 5, 2012.

[27] Gibson, Gerald.  Personal Communication.  November 6, 2012.

[28] Thompson, R.M. February 27, 1992.  “Forest Stewardship Plan.” Located in the MC Archives.

[29] Wilson, John.  Agent & County Director, Blount County.  The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, UT Extension.  Site visit on Feb. 25, 2012.

[30] Photo.  1963.  Anderson Hall with Trucks Collecting Ivy.  Communications Office.  Photo accessed and scanned January, 2007.

[31] For example, 1970’s photo of Dr. Copeland and Rev. Harrison leading the Easter Sunrise Service at the college amphitheater.  Photo in the college archives.

[32] Environmental and Forestry Action Committee.  2005.  Guidelines for Use of the Maryville College Woods.  Instituted Fall, 2005.