Before the campus of Centenary College was built in Hackettstown, the land it now sits on was a cornfield, described during the laying of the cornerstone in 1869 as “desolate – not a tree – not a shrub” (Custard, pg 10). In fact, the town hadn’t yet grown to reach the campus. There was no street in front of the grounds and Church Street, which runs from Main Street directly to the college, was not yet opened. Shortly after opening, the grounds were beautified with the planting of over 200 trees and 800 shrubs. Only a few years later, the lawn seemed “like a very pleasure garden” (Custard, pg 57).
The campus had a broad representation of ornamental species, thanks to the work of early arborists. Over the years, some species have died away due to harsh weather or other natural causes, and the campus has gained some newer plantings. In the spring of 1954 Mrs. Marjorie T. Bingham, instructor of biology, directed a project to mark the trees of Centenary with small metal plates giving the name of the species. This project recorded over 40 varieties of trees. In the 1990s, another survey was done of the trees on campus and printed into a booklet called The Trees of Centenary. A joint effort by members of the Centenary community, it listed all the trees on campus that could be identified and included several photographs of leaves and bark.
Heading the publication was Professor Lewis T. Parrish, then professor/department chair of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Parrish, who came to Centenary in 1959, was a pillar among Centenary’s faculty for over 3 decades and came to Centenary with a well-rounded resume. He had previously held jobs as a metallurgist, meat packer, haberdasher, farmer, and a US history and mathematics teacher.
At Centenary he was the head of the Science Club, participated in Faculty vs. Student sports like bowling and softball, received grants to study genetics and biology, advised one of the sororities, and was a member of several faculty panels. Professor Parrish was in awe of the flora around campus and hoped creating The Trees of Centenary would benefit those who loved it as well.
Custard, Leila Roberta. Through Golden Years: 1867 -1943. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc, 1947. Print.