Thursday, April 7, 2016

Boyce Thompson's Southwest Arboretum

A Desire to End Hunger  
A Love of the Southwest

Boyce Thompson's background was eclectic. Born in Montana, he demonstrated little interest in his public schooling and was sent to be educated at the elite Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He followed that in 1889 with a single year spent studying engineering at Columbia.

Colonel William Boyce Thompson

He completed his education on Wall Street amassing a fortune. His fortune allowed him in 1907 to both purchase and establish various mining operations in Globe and Superior Arizona.

In 1917 he was given the title Colonel of the Red Cross and sent to Russia by the Wilson Administration to assure that it would not negotiate a peace with Germany. The experience proved to be life changing. While there he witnessed incredible poverty and starvation and returned home committed to finding ways to end hunger and ensure the world's food supply.

In 1923 on land near his mining interests in Superior, Arizona Thompson began building a winter home that came to be referred to as his "Picket Post" house. Much of the house remains today.

Thompson's Picket Post House
(Portions of the original home burned in 1953)

A year later in 1924 Thompson endowed $10 million dollars to create the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) for Plant Research in Yonkers, New York. Adjusted for inflation that is the equivalent of about $138,000,000 in 2016 dollars.

Also in 1924 he hired Dr. Frances Crider from the University of Arizona to begin the creation of the Boyce Thompson Southwest Arboretum on land adjacent to his new winter home.

In 1978 his Yonker's New York BTI was abandoned and a new BTI facility opened on a site at Cornell University in Ithaca. 

The Original Boyce Thompson Institute 
Yonkers New York 2014

For the next 38 years Thompson's beloved BTI buildings and greenhouses were left to vandalism and decay. Perhaps, in a bit of irony, the plants have reclaimed the site. I note that a google search indicates there are plans underway to redevelop the Yonkers BTI site.

In Arizona he sought to create his Southwest Arboretum as "the most beautiful and useful garden of its kind in the world".

Mountains to The South

Smith Interpretive Center and Greenhouses (1925)

Along Magma Ridge

Spring Blooms

A Reptiles Delight

Access to The High Trail

In 1925 he suffered a serious stroke from which he never fully recovered. Convinced an even more serious cataclysm was eminent after the stock market crash in 1929, he began liquidating his fortune. But just one year later, in 1930, at the age of 61, he died.  

Now, nearly a century later, Thompson's Arboretum is part of Arizona's state park system. And, like most Arizona parks, it demonstrates our legislatures neglect in our state parks. Luckily, it is cared by some really dedicated staff and a legion of volunteers. The Arboretum is a must see for Arizona residents and visitors alike.

It is located about an hours drive east of Phoenix and is open every day except December 25.  Its operating hours vary by season. From October till April the hours are 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  From May through September it is open from 6:00 AM till 3:00 PM. Last admissions are sold 1 hour before closing.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

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