Of the primary source materials related to Davidson’s natural landscape, I thought the most interesting were the black and white photographs showing Davidson in varying states of deforestation. It is difficult to look at the carefully manicured lawn in front of Chambers and imagine it strewn with felled trees and crisscrossed by corduroy roads.
For a while, most of Davidson consisted of empty fields. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that additional buildings were added to the empty land and trees were added to the cross country trails. The way the campus is designed leads one to believe that the campus was molded around nature, that the buildings were built just so in order to be locked in by graceful oaks. Rather, any of the nature on campus is here to replace what was lost when the school first cleared the land. The arboretum on campus is to nature as a museum is to culture.
When did Davidson cease to become truly natural and wild? I think that when the Atlantic, Tennessee, and Ohio railroad was completed in 1860, development began rapidly. Before then, Davidson was out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by wilderness.