By Sarah Aisenbrey, Archivist 

Not only does the month of April bring warmer weather and spring blooms throughout The Arboretum, it also includes two of our favorite holidays, Earth Day and Arbor Day.  Each year, we invite the public to celebrate trees and all the ways they make our lives better, during The Dawes Arboretum Arbor Day Festival.  Although you may have enjoyed the event in the past, you might not know how it all began.  Read on to learn more about the Arbor Day holiday and our tradition of celebrating it at The Dawes Arboretum.

The idea for a “tree-planting holiday” came from journalist and politician J. Sterling Morton who, having moved to the Nebraska Territory from Michigan in 1854, noticed the need for trees on the windswept landscape.  Trees, he thought, would help with soil erosion, and provide building materials, shade and many other benefits to Nebraska residents.  He and his wife, Caroline, showed the people of the Nebraska Territory how to plant trees in this dry landscape by planting hundreds of pine trees on their property, Arbor Lodge.  On April 10, 1872, an estimated 1 million trees were planted on the first Arbor Day in Nebraska.

Other states soon followed. Ohio, for example, had its first Arbor Day just ten years later in 1882.  Today, every state in the United States celebrates Arbor Day, as well as several countries around the world.  In Ohio, we celebrate Arbor Day each year on the last Friday in April, but dates range from mid-February to late May, depending on climate.

The Dawes Arboretum first honored Arbor Day on November 11, 1927, with a Tree Dedication to J. Sterling Morton by his descendants.  The tree they planted, an American elm (Ulmus americana), was taken from Arbor Lodge, Morton’s Nebraska home.  Because Dutch elm disease has eliminated the original elms on The Arboretum property, an American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus) stands in the place of J. Sterling Morton’s original tree.  Pictured here is Joy Morton, son of J. Sterling Morton, at the Nov. 11, 1927 Tree Dedication.

The Arbor Day celebration we have today began in 1966.  The event was specifically for fifth graders from the local Lakewood School District.  Arboretum staff taught students how to plant trees, and there was also a short tree-planting ceremony.

In 1993, The Arboretum had its first “Arbor Day Celebration for Everyone.”  The program included a showing of the Dr. Seuss movie The Lorax, wagon tours, and free tree giveaways.  After this first Arbor Day celebration, the festival continued to grow steadily.  In 2002, tree climbing debuted for the first time – a fan-favorite activity, still today.  Our celebration now includes vendors and communArbor Dayity partners from all over Licking County along with hands-on learning opportunities like crafts and displays for the whole family.

You, too, can become a part of this Arboretum tradition!  The event, made possible through the generous support of presenting sponsor Park National Bank and media sponsor Ohio Magazine, will take at The Arboretum on Saturday, April 29, from 10am to 3pm.  This year, Arbor Day Festival even features animal presentations from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium!

Also opening on Arbor Day, our History Center will focus on Tree Dedicators, individuals or groups of outstanding achievement asked by The Arboretum to dedicate a tree on grounds.  Displays will focus on 14 of these individuals with artifacts related to their dedication and/or accomplishments.  The space is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12 to 3pm, starting in May.