After the drama of the two gorges, the central campus may appear flat or tame. But this 786-acre hilltop that Ezra offered to his wife, Mary Ann, as “a garden of Eden for my bird of Paradise” has many more surprises to reveal. Despite the proliferation of new buildings in recent decades, the innate qualities of the landscape remain largely intact. The first set of academic buildings on campus was the “stone row” on the Arts Quad, and just below them, Libe Slope slouches down to West Campus and beyond to the city. A favorite for sledding before it was prohibited, this turf-covered hillside is now the site for Slope Day, a celebration of the academic year’s end.
Just southeast of the Slope is the great Gothic student union, Willard Straight Hall, and alongside it in a mini-gorge is the Willard Straight Rock Garden. The unkempt condition of the rock garden lends it a romantic air, a perfect spot for moonlit strolls. The water that runs through the garden is commonly known as Wee Stinky Creek, and uphill from it one finds Wee Stinky Glen. These odd monikers apparently refer back to a time when the College of Veterinary Medicine was located nearby and the creek was used as a drain for chemicals and animal wastes. Fortunately, no odors remain from that less regulated era.
Up a knoll, near the intersection of Tower Road and East Avenue, sits the A.D. White House, from which Andrew Dickson White, Cornell’s first president, could look out the picture windows and see the new campus taking shape before him. The views that White had from that perch are reflective of one of the great qualities of the Cornell landscape—from nearly any point, one gets glimpses of other natural and manmade forms.
Further east, up Tower Road, one arrives at the Agriculture Quadrangle, which is mostly flat. But Mann Library, at its far end, provides views from its glassed rear walls into an old-growth woodland, and the extensively renovated Warren Hall looks down on the Dean’s Garden, a horticultural gem. The Dean’s Garden is under the management of Cornell Botanic Gardens, which operates the botanical garden, wildflower garden, and arboretum that together occupy 200 acres. These are three major components of Cornell’s museum of living plants, and each has been developed in a natural depression or bowl.
In many ways, the Botanic Gardens’ areas are a microcosm of the greater Cornell landscape, with their rolling hills, proximity to water, marvelous view corridors, and surprises around every bend. As the seasons progress, different sections of the Plantations take center stage for their beautiful displays. Early spring is the time to troop over to the Mundy Wildflower Garden, located between Judd Falls Road to the west and Caldwell Road to the east. Within this wooded glen are paths lined with a multitude of native spring ephemerals, from trillium to trout lilies, hepaticas to spring beauties. In summer, many of the collections in the botanical garden—including the Robison Herb Garden, Young Flower Garden, and Pounder Vegetable Garden—offer an abundance of blooms, scents, and textured foliage. Then in fall, the F.R. Newman Arboretum is in its greatest glory, its groves of trees showing off their rich palette of autumnal colors. Even though the plants that fill the Botanic Gardens' landscape are dormant in winter, this is still a stunning season in which to visit. Nowhere is that more true than in the Mullestein Winter Garden, located in the heart of the botanical garden. Each of the trees and shrubs in the Winter Garden has been selected for its interesting bark, evergreen foliage, colorful berries, or unusual form, so that the overall effect is a visually stunning garden, even though there is not a single plant in bloom.
Ezra Cornell made a brilliant decision when he sited his university here. Now it’s your turn to explore all that Cornell has to offer. You won’t see it all in a single hike, but each time you visit campus, we hope that you will discover something new, delightful, and enriching.