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Records of the Bussey Institution, 1883-1994

Scope and Contents

The histories of the Bussey Institution and the Arnold Arboretum are often intertwined. The Arboretum was established on what had been Bussey Institution land and at different periods the two institutions shared staff (including administrators) and facilities. This collection consists of correspondence (both original and photocopies), university reports about the institution (both original and photocopies), photographs of the buildings and grounds, articles about the institution and other miscellaneous materials. Additional material on the Bussey Institution can be found in The Development of Harvard University since the inauguration of President Eliot, 1869-1929, edited by Samuel Eliot Morison (HOLLIS Record). The Harvard book: selections from three centuries, edited by William Bentinck-Smith also contains information on the Bussey Institution (HOLLIS record). Additional information on Peabody and Stearns can be found in Peabody and Stearns: country houses and seaside cottages, by Annie Robinson (HOLLIS record).


  • 1883-1994

Conditions Governing Access

Researchers seeking to examine archival materials are strongly encouraged to make an appointment. The Director, or an office of origin, may place restrictions on the use of some or all of its records. The extent and length of the restriction will be determined by the Director, office of origin, and the Archivist and will be enforced equally for all researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright is held by The President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Arnold Arboretum Archives of Harvard University. The copyright on some materials in the collection may be held by the original author or the author's heirs or assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining written permission from the holder(s) of copyright and the Arnold Arboretum Archives prior to publishing any quotations or images from materials in this collection.

Photocopies may be made at the discretion of the Arnold Arboretum Archives staff. Permission to make photocopies does not constitute permission to reproduce or publish materials outside the bounds of the fair use guidelines.


0.3 linear feet (1 boxes)

Biographical / Historical

The will of Benjamin Bussey, drawn up in 1835, gave an endowment to Harvard University for the establishment of an undergraduate school of agriculture and horticulture to be called the Bussey Institution, as well as a grant of land from his estate in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. One of the provisions of the will allowed Bussey's granddaughter, Mrs. Maria Bussey Motley, a life tenancy on the property of "Woodland Hill" as the estate was called, therefore it took some years for the terms of the will to be acted upon.

In 1870 Mrs. Motley released seven acres of the property for the establishment of the school and work began on dormitory, classrooms and outbuildings. At the same time her husband, Thomas Motley, Jr., was appointed instructor of farming, a post he held until his death in 1895, and Francis Storer was named professor of agricultural chemistry. In 1871, as the new Bussey Institution buildings neared completion additional professors were chosen including Francis Parkman as professor of horticulture. Charles S. Sargent succeeded him in that position in 1872.

Enrollment in the program was never very large, it averaged about eight students during the years 1880-1895 and only ten undergraduate degrees were ever granted. Francis Storer felt that growth was hampered by free tuition offered by the Massachusetts Agricultural College in Amherst, Massachusetts and by the founding of the Harvard Veterinary School. Several of the instructors donated their services and the salaries of the others were paid through private subscriptions. Additional funds were raised by boarding livestock and by raising vegetables for the Harvard College food services. Enrollment improved during the period 1896-1907 and new instructors were appointed, including John G. Jack.

At least one future landscape architect was enrolled in the program at the Bussey Institution. He was Charles Eliot, son of Harvard President Charles Eliot, who was later employed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

The Bussey Institution remained as an undergraduate school until 1908 when it was reorganized into the Graduate School of Applied Science (after 1915 Applied Biology). That year Professor William E. Castle moved his laboratory to the Bussey. In 1909 Dr. Edward M. East was appointed chair of Experimental Plant Morphology. The program was expanded to include plant anatomy in 1914 with the appointment of Professor Irving W. Bailey. Professor Oakes Ames followed in 1915 and maintained a laboratory there until 1926.

In 1930 the Bussey faculty was merged with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and in 1936 the Bussey staff was transferred to the Biological Laboratories in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Bussey Institution remained as a holding agency and its funds were used to support the Arnold Arboretum. In the late 1940s botanical activities were reorganized at Harvard University and the Bussey Institution was folded into the Institute for Research in Experimental and Applied Botany. During World War II the Bussey Institution buildings in Jamaica Plain were renovated and used by the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

The Bussey Institution began an ongoing relationship with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 1894 when the department began to produce diphtheria antitoxin at the Bussey facility. In 1904 a new Antitoxin and Vaccine Laboratory was built on adjacent land. In 1947 the Bussey buildings became the home of the Diagnostic Laboratories. By the 1963 more room was needed, so the state arranged the purchase of the former Bussey Institution grounds and buildings from Harvard University. When construction of the new State Laboratory Institute began in 1969 on the property, efforts were made to preserve the old gothic Bussey Institution building however funding was not available for preservation and restoration of the structure and it was demolished in the early 1970s.


Organized into the following series: I. Correspondence; II. Publications of the Bussey Institution; III. Articles about the Bussey Institution; IV. Photographs; and V. Architecture

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These records were acquired during the years of the Bussey Institute’s affiliation with the Arnold Arboretum. The papers were accessioned into HOLLIS # 008902736 and this file name is ajp00012.

General note

Access to Finding Aid record in Hollis Classic or Hollis.

Processing Information

Processed:September 2001

By: Lisa Pearson

Revised: May 2003 By: Sheila Connor

Revised: March 2011 By: Kayleigh Hinckley
Link to catalog
Bussey Institution. Records of the Bussey Institution, 1883-1994 : A Finding Aid.
Archives of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

Repository Details

Part of the Arnold Arboretum Archives Repository

The Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library is a specialized collection devoted to the study of temperate woody plants. We collect works on botany, horticulture, floras, urban forestry and taxonomy. The library contains more than 25,000 volumes and 40,000 photographs, and includes an archive that both documents the Arboretum's history and is a repository for 19th, 20th, and 21st century horticultural and botanical collections.

125 Arborway
Jamaica Plain MA 02130 USA
(617) 522-1086