The West Virginia Botanic Gardens is breaking away from the traditional “plants only” norm for gardens.

Instead it has begun interpreting the historical significance of the site itself.

The area was once home to a reservoir basin that supplied water to nearby Morgantown from 1912-1969.

They hired a historian on staff who conducted research for the site and created interpretive signs for the gardens visitors that tells the story of the battle over obtaining a company to provide the water reservoir and the family legacy of the man who was its caretaker for over forty years.

To read the full article, you can purchase this issue of History News. The following is an excerpt:

“Botanic gardens are for plants.” That is the mantra of George Longenecker, a landscape architect and executive director of the West Virginia Botanic Garden, Inc., which is located just east of Morgantown, West Virginia. And, of course, he is right—except that botanic gardens can also be for history. One excellent example of the “also for history” mission may be at the Atlanta (Georgia) Botanical Garden, the site of the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition where Booker T. Washington gave his famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech, or at Longwood Gardens, which proudly promotes its history from the Lenni Lenape tribe through the Peirce and Du Pont families.

The West Virginia Botanic Garden’s connection to history is more mundane—but also perhaps more accessible to the public—than that connected to a famous speech or famous family. The eighty-two-acre site includes the reservoir basin that supplied water to the City of Morgantown from 1912 to 1969 and the surrounding land that protected the water supply from pollution.

As background, Morgantown is located along the Monongahela River, ten miles south of the  West Virginia-Pennsylvania border and eighty miles south of Pittsburgh. The West Virginia Botanic Garden, Inc. develops and manages the site under a lease with the City of Morgantown and Morgantown Utility Board. The Garden’s board of directors includes people with degrees in landscape architecture, wood science, resource ecology, and horticulture; the manager of the West Virginia University (WVU) arboretum; garden club members; master gardeners; master naturalists; and one historian, me.

We have a part-time volunteer coordinator and education director, but all the other work is done by volunteers, so, in that sense, it is much like a small history organization in that it relies on memberships, donations, grants, and special events to support its work. The garden is open daily from dawn to dusk, and admission is free. There are some designed gardens, but unlike more traditional botanic gardens, much of the site is wooded, including some old growth forest.