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Ellicottille’s “Crown Jewel” Arboretum Revival

By Mary Fox

In 1958, local conservationist, political leader and businessman, William Nannen, and his wife Sadie, generously donated eight acres of their farmland to Cornell University for the designated purpose of being used for a school of agriculture.

By 1961 a building was completed as an Extension of Cornell University.  The rest of the acreage was used to plant crops used as teaching aids.

In 1972 John Ploetz, born in Plato, retired from a 35 year career and went to work part time at the Extension Center.

John grew up with an appreciation of the land, as one of nine children who grew up on their parent’s farm.

In 1933 John joined the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) at Allegany State Park where he learned the art of the stonemason.

While working in the beautiful wooded acres of Allegany State Forest John’s lifelong love affair with trees developed.

After leaving the CCC John took courses on al l aspects of tree management and was hired by the Davey Tree Expert Company of Kent, Ohio.  His expertise as a dendrologist (one who studies trees ) was in demand throughout  the US and Canada.

Upon retiring from his 35 year odyssey with Davey as the Northeastern Landscape and Tree Moving Supervisor,   John and his wife, Shirley moved back to their roots and settled in Little Valley.  His interest in trees however did not retire.  While working at the Extension he had a dream of building an arboretum on the land behind the Cornell Cooperative Extension Building.

John laid out a plan that would incorporate a park of hundreds of trees from around the world as well as areas for relaxation.  In 1977 the Nannen Arboretum was formally opened.

Today hundreds of memorial trees, the Northrup Memorial Nature Hall, The Chapman Memorial Chapel in the Lowe Herb Garden, the Al Cox Memorial Garden, Lake Nipponica, and most recently the Andy Phelan Memorial are part of the Arboretum thanks to the hundreds of volunteers that have kept it happening .

During the 1984 Arbor Day Celebration a plaque was unveiled which honors the efforts of John Ploetz. The inscription reads, “In grateful recognition of John W. Ploetz.  Inspired by a dream, motivated by professional experience and rewarded by sharing knowledge with others. He continues to shape the Nannen Arboretum for the benefit of us all.”

This February the eight acres including the old building and arboretum were purchased by the Town of Ellicottville.  “The Arboretum will operate independently of the town as a non-profit volunteer based organization funded by donations and grants,” reported John Burrell, Town Supervisor.

“The town intends to designate the Nannen Arboretum as a Park safeguarding the property from any future change in ownership,” said Pat Kerl, master gardener and member of the Arboretum Committee   which will now be known as the “Nannen Arboretum Society.”

“We are very excited about the town taking over the land and look forward to working with them,” said Master Gardner, Nan Miller.

Workshops, Garden Clubs, weddings, fundraising events, tours, opportunities for quiet meditation and more are all available at the Nannen Arboretum. You can be part of the excitement of its revival. Many activities are planned for this summer so bring your rake and help get your park ready to enthrall another summer of visitors. Work days are Mondays from 9-12. For more information or to volunteer call Nan at 945 3845.

Paul Kingston, long time board member dubbed the Arboretum a “Crown Jewel of Ellicottville”. With a little polishing it will shines.

John Ploetz, said, “What we do for ourselves dies with us; what we do for others is immortal.”

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