A History of Temple University Ambler
By James F. Duffy
Temple University Ambler
Temple University Ambler has a rich history dating back more than a century when it was founded as the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women (PSHW), one of the first educational institutions of its kind in the United States. This comprehensive exploration of that history begins when the PSHW was just an idea and continues to nearly present day. The author, James Duffy, is the Content Manager for the Temple University Ambler Campus and has been with Temple for more than 20 years.
The seeds that would one day become Temple University Ambler were sown in the most unlikely setting back in 1905.
Jane Bowne Haines, a graduate from Bryn Mawr College, had taken a tour of Europe, visiting several colleges of gardening in England and Germany. When she returned to the states, she was determined to create a similar institution here.
It was in 1910 that Haines, then 41, who had inherited a love of horticulture from her Quaker family, came across the 71-acre McAlonan farm in Ambler during a horse and buggy ride. With financial support from friends, in particular fellow graduates from Bryn Mawr, she purchased the property and founded the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women in 1911 — the only school of its type at the time in the United States.
“Believing thoroughly in the principle of horticultural training for women, and that the time for founding such an institution is now come, a number of people have associated themselves together with the purpose of opening, in the near future, a school for the practical training of women in gardening and kindred subjects. The purpose of the school is to offer educated and earnest minded women who have a love for the country life and an aptitude for country pursuits, practical training in horticulture,” Haines said in a speech to her friends and backers in 1910. “The first students in the school will have much of the fun, for to them will be given an insight into the foundation of things; the laying out and planting of the gardens and grounds, and the creating of custom and precedent so dear to all schools and colleges. One principle above all others we will keep before us and would particularly enforce — the trained hand with the trained mind, which means mastery and success.”
Classes began on February 11, 1911, with Mary D. Collins serving as principal and Miss E.D. Varley as the only instructor. Of the five students who first enrolled, three completed the two-year program.
Haines had a “hands-on, learning-by-doing” philosophy clearly evidenced by the instruction the earliest students received at the time. Orchard care, farm tool use, lawn and shrubbery care, care of livestock, botany, chemistry, vegetable and kitchen gardening, bee keeping, poultry raising, carpentry, and agricultural bookkeeping all fell under the blanket term of “horticultural instruction.”
Classes were held from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., five days a week, 10 months out of the year. And the students had a hand in everything, including some finishing carpentry work in the first greenhouses in 1912. The three women who stuck it out waited until 1915 for official commencement ceremonies to be held.
Louise Carter Bush-Brown, who would direct the course of the school from 1924 to 1952, was part of the second graduating class in 1915. In a recollection for the 50th anniversary of the Horticulture School for the Pen and Trowel, the Department of Horticulture alumni newsletter, Bush-Brown evoked images of the day she arrived on campus — an experience decidedly different from the mad dash to purchase books and arrive for classes on time that students go through today.
“I can recall so clearly that September day in 1914 when I arrived at Ambler and was driven in a little rattle-trap taxi to the School of Horticulture. I was intrigued with the tollgate at which we stopped and waited for the man to come out of his little house to collect the toll,” she said. “After the driver had handed him the nickel he raised the bar for us to proceed and we turned down the dusty road which led to the School.”
Bush-Brown recalled there were only 14 students at the Horticulture School in 1914, four in the second-year class and 10 in the entering class.
“The only buildings on the School property were the original farm house, the picturesque group of farm buildings, a house for the farmer on the slope beyond the barn, a small poultry house, the little springhouse, one small greenhouse and the little cottage beyond the vineyard which served as a dormitory for eight students,” she said. “And there was a windmill which pumped our water.”
The old remodeled farmhouse, built in 1760 and known today as Haines House, was far from adequate for actual instruction. The instructor stood in the doorway while teaching due to lack of space in the single room. The school uniforms at the time were not the height of functionality either when it came to working in the gardens.
“Our School of Horticulture uniform at that time was a very full khaki skirt which reached to within six inches of the ground and a jacket to match,” Bush-Brown said. “In the spring of 1915, the entire student body totaling 17 took part in a World War I patriotic parade and marched gallantly down Broad Street in Philadelphia dressed in this garb.”
In the fall of 1914, ground was broken for a new building across from the old farmhouse. What is today the Administration Building was then a classroom and dormitory.
“There was a large classroom on the first floor and a cozy sitting room with a fireplace. Prior to this there had been no place where the students could gather or entertain friends,” Bush-Brown recalled. “On the second and third floors there was a room for a faculty member and accommodations for 11 students. The building was completed in April and those of us who had lived in a house half a mile down the road joyfully moved into our attractive new rooms.”
In the summer of 1915 Miss Elizabeth Leighton Lee became the Director of the School of Horticulture serving in that capacity until 1924. Jane Bowne Haines became President of the school’s Board of Directors — she passed away in 1937.
“Miss Lee was among the first women to practice landscape architecture and was well known in her field,” Bush-Brown said. “She had great dignity and personal charm and was deeply loved by many of the students who had the privilege of knowing her.”
According to a student exhibit on the School of Horticulture created in 1994, enrollment increased during World War I as special training courses were offered in food production to meet the war effort. Public opinion concerning women in the field of horticulture was changing and skepticism gave way to admiration for the energy and skill that the “Farmerettes,” displayed in their work. Philadelphia’s social elite began to think of it as a “proper finishing school” for their daughters.
“The students in the first two graduating classes, 1915 and 1916, were, in the true sense of the word, pioneers. We were venturing into a completely new field for women and had no way of knowing what opportunities the future might hold for us,” Bush-Brown said in her 50th Anniversary remembrances. “But we had enthusiasm for our work and faith and zeal. And we realized that we were blazing a new trail — that if we were successful in the positions which we held it would create new opportunities for the students of the future.”
A recollection by Louise Carter Bush-Brown on the day Miss Edna Gunnell arrived at the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women:
“When we returned in the autumn for our second year (1915) we learned that Miss Edna Gunnell, an English woman, had been appointed Head of the Floriculture Department.
Miss Gunnell arrived a week after the term had started and I recall so clearly the day she came. I happened to be near the office at the time and was asked to take her over to her room in the new Academic Building.
That evening after she had retired we were intrigued to see a pair of shoes outside her door, where-upon we hastily called a student conference. What should we do? Should we just leave them there or should we polish them? At last someone suggested that we polish one of them and leave the other unpolished in order to get her used to it gradually. This, we decided, was a good solution.
The shoes were never put out again.
Miss Gunnell had the distinction at that time of being the only woman graduate of the famous training school at Kew Gardens, near London, and I shall always feel that it was one of my greatest privileges to have had that wonderful year under her direction.
The breadth of her horticulture knowledge, her marvelous techniques, and her determination to keep standards high made her an inspiring teacher. She was satisfied with nothing short of perfection and to this day I am proud of the way I can rake a piece of ground for a flower garden or in preparation for the sowing of grass seed.
It was under the direction of Louise Carter Bush-Brown that the Pennsylvania Horticulture School for Women truly thrived. Along with boosting enrollment, she established degree-bearing programs with the Cambridge School of Landscape and Landscape Architecture and Smith College Graduate School. She also broadened the cultural diversity of the school by attracting students from Japan, Australia, and West Germany.
In 1926, James Bush-Brown, Louise Bush-Brown’s husband and a member of the school’s faculty during the 20s through the 50s, designed the nationally acclaimed Formal Gardens, with advice from landscape architect Beatrix Farrand and the Olmsted Brothers. Students continued to plant and care for the grounds and extensive perennial beds, which remain a centerpiece of the campus today.
According to an advertisement in the 1928 Wise Acre, the yearbook of the School of Horticulture, course offerings at that time included: Floriculture, Landscape Design, Botany, Poultry, Bees, Vegetable Growing, Fruit Growing, and the Care of Farm Animals. About 30 to 40 students were then enrolled in the two-year program.
In 1929, a new campus dormitory was built with a capacity for 50 students on the site where Dixon Hall is today.
“It was a wonderful year when, in the spring of 1929, we, as students at our beloved School of Horticulture, moved into the beautiful new Dormitory which we had watched being built,” Class of 1930 alumnus Lois Woodward Paul wrote in 1964.
The auspicious day, however, was, “not without humor,” she said.
“The roads were seas of mud from the spring rains. Jackson, the farm horse, was hitched to a cart, which was filled and refilled with all our various possessions,” she said. “Miss Barber was doing her best to keep her new house clean — but how could she win when fifty students were making limitless trips from the old buildings to the new through the mud!”
The size of the new building, Paul wrote, did present some difficulties.
“Compared to our former quarters which were close, to put it mildly, we found our friends scattered at opposite ends of this spacious building,” she said. “Betty Ackroyd quickly solved this problem by buying a scooter with rubber tires. I don’t know how those who followed us met this problem.”
New greenhouses were built in the 1930s that sparked some envy among alumni.
“In 1938 after the new potting shed and the two new greenhouses on the west end had been built, one of the graduates of the previous June returned for a visit and as she was leaving she exclaimed impulsively ‘Oh! Mrs. Bush-Brown, I feel that I came two years too soon!’,” Bush-Brown recalled. “‘How do you think I feel, Alice?’ I replied. ‘I feel I came 24 years too soon.’”
Bush-Brown and her husband co-authored America’s Garden Book in 1939, which became the number one selling general garden book in the country. During her tenure as school director, they also published The Farmer’s Digest, a publication through which to share the research and knowledge of the faculty and students with the general public.
Lillian Krelove, a Hatboro resident and graduate of the class of 1941, handled subscriptions for The Farmer’s Digest during her second year as a student. Tuition was $495 a semester at the time.
“I knew all of the states alphabetically,” she said with a smile.
Krelove has a recollection about almost every member of the class of 1941 and a good part of 1942. She clearly recalls a student who used to steam up the bathroom by taking baths that were just too long, and her graduation ceremony in the Formal Gardens, and other students taking care of livestock in the barn.
While several of the students who attended the Pennsylvania Horticulture School for Women came from wealthy families, Krelove was a “working student.”
“We would get up at about 7 a.m. — there was a bell, and if you didn’t want to get up it was your tough luck. Everyone had to run to the bathroom in the morning because there were only two bathrooms,” she said. “I’d get dressed and have breakfast. We’d have to get up a little earlier because we worked in the kitchen that first year and boy were we well fed!”
Krelove said after breakfast during both years, “we’d take Botany in the greenhouse.” Classes also included Floriculture, “our most important subject.”
Krelove said she had a roommate, Rhoda Specht, now Rhoda Tarantino, who worked with “Dr. Ruth Patrick,” a botany instructor, “who got a whole group together and cleaned up the Schuylkill River.” Dr. Patrick, now 94, is world-renowned and considered a pioneer in the field of limnology. She holds the Francis Boyer Chair of Limnology at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
“When they started there was no fish at all, but she cleaned it right up,” Krelove said.
Essentially students were either Horticulture or Landscape Design majors, Krelove said. There was also a farm management major that worked with the animals at the school.
Krelove said if students at the time wanted to visit Ambler Borough, “we’d just walk down there.”
“There were about five or six of us that would go,” she said. “We were hail and hearty kids.”
As it did during World War I, enrollment again increased during World War II as women came to classes to learn how to preserve fruits and vegetables from their “victory gardens.” Spirits on campus were high during the post-war era as May Day festivities, first celebrated in 1930, became elaborate pageants of courtly ceremony and dress. Alumni have said that campus had an almost “Camelot” air to it.
During the 1940s, the nearby Blakiston property was purchased, adding 116 acres to the Horticulture School property. According to the 1994 student project on the school, a new wing was added to the barn, now the gym, to house blue ribbon Jersey cows. Interest in equestrian sports was also at an all-time high and stables were built. Students often boarded their own horses at the school.
“There were maybe 40 people total on the entire 187 acres. Back then we didn’t know it was that big — we used to ride horses and never knew the land we were riding on belonged to the school,” Krelove said. “There was a little house in which the field gardener worked and there were still crops then. Where Cottage Hall and Bright Hall are now, there was just grass and dirt.”
The Hilda Justice Memorial Library was opened in 1951 to house a collection of 16th Century herbal volumes that Louise Carter Bush-Brown had donated to the school. She retired as director a year later.
During her tenure as director, students went on to successful careers in varied fields at institutions such as Longwood Gardens, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Morris Arboretum, the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, Colonial Williamsburg, the New York Botanical Garden, and the National Arboretum.
During the year and a half search for a new director after Bush-Brown’s departure, enrollment dropped and the school finances fell into the red
Jo Davis Malessa, a Class of 1955 alum who majored in both Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Design, with a minor in Agriculture for good measure, said there were about 25 students in her graduating class. Her time at the Horticulture school came during the transition between Bush-Brown and Jonathan French, though, she said, both Mr. and Mrs. Bush-Brown were still very active on campus when she came to the school in 1953.
“I had Mr. Bush-Brown for Landscape Architecture and Landscape Architecture Design. When I came to school I think Mrs. Bush-Brown was still the director,” she said. “She was a very tough act to follow. We were not terribly friendly to Mr. French.”
When Jonathan French became director in 1953, it was of a troubled institution. By 1957, enrollment would fall to just 28 students.
Malessa said her courses and life on campus did not reflect the turmoil that might be taking place behind the scenes. Though she did remember a “dressing down” several of the students received from Mr. French.
“I don’t remember what our transgression was. I think it was around exam time and we were letting off steam,” she said with a laugh. “One of us asked him when things got uptight what he expected us to do. His answer was to pick up a good book and read it — it was not a good answer at the time.”
Malessa said she carried a full slate of classes while at the Horticulture School, course that included Liberal Arts programs such as English Literature and Public Speaking.
“You didn’t know exactly what you were going to do when you got out into the world. You were expected to be able to go out in the workplace and present yourself,” she said. “You were expected to be able to write. You could end up going out and becoming a horticulture columnist. You were prepared in every facet — it wasn’t just about digging in the dirt.”
Like Krelove, Malessa also took on student jobs, such as cleaning out the horse stables early in the morning and working in the greenhouses in the afternoon. She also worked as a gardener for an estate off campus.
“I remember you were never allowed to wear your field shoes into the dining room. You were always expected to wear a skirt or a dress for dinner,” she said. “It was an all-girls school and it could have become easy to get very lackadaisical about the social graces, but they never allowed that to happen. Sure we wore jeans and had our shirts untucked, but never in the dining room.”
The Horticulture School was going through changes in Malessa’s time, though on the surface it might not have been as noticeable. She went on to become a horticultural therapist at Friends Hospital.
“It was a very new field at the time. We were part of the pioneer process,” she said. “I loved my time (at the horticulture school). I learned a lot and developed fast friends.”
In 1952, the school had received provisional accreditation as a junior college and was admitted to the American Association of Junior Colleges. In 1957, the Pennsylvania States Council on Education gave the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women permission to change its name to Ambler Junior College and to grant the Associate in Science degree. Under the junior college, programs were made available to men for the first time.
But strides in the curriculum offered did not help the school’s bottom line. Without support from a larger institution, the Pennsylvania Horticulture School for Women would have likely shut its doors forever.
It was in 1958 that Temple University first entered the picture and established a relationship with the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women that would evolve into the Temple University Ambler of today.
Krelove said she felt Temple’s involvement in the school provided a level of support it had never had before.
“The place was so unique. I came back almost every year,” she said. “I always came back for the Harvest Home celebration. We’d bring plants for the plant sale. Sometimes in the spring, Hans Zutter would auction off other plants.”
Krelove has also managed to keep in touch with many of her fellow graduates over the years. There is a clear recollection of a snowy night during her time as a student that readily, and appropriately, comes to mind.
“I remember one thing. It had been snowing all night long and we were out walking,” Krelove said. “Somebody had pulled a tow truck into the driveway and it had gotten stuck. By morning, the snow was up over the roof. It was from somewhere called, I believe, Rosemary Garage, but all you could see was ‘Rosemary.’ ‘Rosemary,’ I said, ‘that’s for remembrance.’”
A time of change
In 1957, change was in the air at the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women.
The Pennsylvania States Council on Education gave the Horticulture School permission to change its name to Ambler Junior College and to grant the Associate of Science degree. The school had received provisional accreditation as a junior college in 1952.
A 1957 edition of the Pen and Trowel, the alumni newsletter, called this “a tremendous step forward, reflecting the many changes over the past few years in curriculum improvement, building expansion, and other fulfillments aimed toward a recognized standing among other educators.”
At the time, the subtitle “A School of Horticulture for Women” was featured prominently on all letterhead, catalogues, and other publications.
“Eventual accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools will be the open door to full recognition and acceptance in the educational field,” the Pen and Trowel editorial continued. “But before we come to that, we must build to freshman classes of at least 40. First, last, and always, our plans must be centered on the 17-year-old girl of today.”
Of course, even the best laid plans often fall short of fruition. It may be that the school’s financial bottom line precluded the visions of the alumni from becoming a reality.
It was at about that time, depending on which historical account you read, that either the Horticulture School first approached Temple University or Temple University first approached the Horticulture School.
According to “The People’s University,” an unpublished account of the history of Temple, it was the Horticulture School that made the first move.
“For 45 years, it had served with distinction a small but influential clientele. Then the school let it be known that it was interested in affiliation with Temple University,” the historical piece states. “Temple’s board of trustees appreciated the honor but felt, because of other commitments, it could not accept at this time. Not so easily put off, the Ambler institution waited three years, then renewed its proposal for togetherness. Its enrollment by that time had dropped to 39 girls, but it still had 150 acres that were appreciating in value every year.”
In 1958, the horticulture school’s already established Ambler Junior College began its relationship with Temple University. It was also the first year programs were made available to men — all of two applied that first year.
“Every effort was made by the administration, the faculty, and the rest of the student body, of course, to preserve these male specimens in the hope that they would attract others of their kind by providing evidence that this one-time all-girl school was now indeed co-educational,” according to the historical account.
In 1960, Bright Hall opened and was dedicated to Jane Linn Erwin Bright, a supporter of the school for many years. The building provided additional classroom space, laboratories, and a library wing. What is now Bright Hall Lounge was used as a dining hall.
According to the unpublished university history, then Provost Millard Gladfelter, who would shortly become university president, “was aware that the Ambler venture would be financially painful for the time being, but he was also confident that within a few years it could be made into one of the university’s most valuable divisions.”
“He promised to give the school direction and to provide means and personnel to revitalize it. Most of the courses in the school’s pre-Temple days were organized around horticulture, landscape design, and horse husbandry,” the historical account states. “To aid in effecting a smooth transition, Temple agreed to continue this program as long as ‘a reasonably sound economic demand exists.’”
On January 27, 1961, to emphasize the now close relationship of the campus to Temple University, the Board of Trustees formalized the transition to The Ambler Campus of Temple University.
“Ambler Junior College was a self-limiting title. True, the school began its Temple history with only a two-year program, but the hope was always that young people introduced to college life in Ambler’s idyllic environment would find it easy and natural to move to the main campus to complete the work for a four-year degree or, as thoughtful observers pointed out, the transfer might be in reverse,” the historical account states. “The day would come when enough advanced courses would be established on the Ambler campus…to enable students there to meet all requirements for graduation without so much as stepping across the line between Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. These were among the possibilities written into the broad and simple title, Ambler Campus of Temple University.”
In 1961, sophomores at Ambler were taking courses in the liberal arts and the student population was almost evenly split between male and female.
When Jonathan French retired as school director in 1963, Dr. Eugene Udell became the first official dean of the campus. He had been working for Temple since 1950, teaching in the College of Education. He had also founded Temple’s audiovisual center. After his five-year stint as dean, he would continue working for Temple until 1985.
Udell said that first year was a true baptism by fire.
“Within the first week, the dormitory burned to the ground,” he said. “We built small buildings to house the residence students at the time. Those buildings eventually became Cottage Hall.”
“The People’s History,” called the incident “an administrator’s nightmare — days and nights of working around the clock, cutting red tape to be sure that what had to be done would be done, enlisting help from the community, building temporary structures, renting mobile all-purpose campers and wheeling them into place on campus.”
“Despite the stress and strain, Udell and his staff survived, and instruction at Ambler began according to schedule,” the historical account states.
Some students, however, had difficulty adjusting to the new “cottage” dormitories.
“The new dormitories, which we call cottages, have separated us not only from the beauty of the campus but from each other. Girls in one cottage are apart from a group of girls in another cottage. Our uniting factor seems to have been lost,” wrote Toni Tosco, a Class of 1964 alumnus in an article for the Pen and Trowel published in the spring of 1964. “The lost dormitory provided more convenience, allowed more freedom than the small cottages. A formal atmosphere existed in the dining room of the old building. It gave a relaxed effect that we do not have in the dining section of Bright Hall lounge. However, despite the lack of space, and a loss of character that the lost dormitory had, the new cottages provide for comfortable living.”
Tosco said students who lost personal belongings in the fire “realized for the first time that one never knows when disaster might strike.
“Suddenly, we had lost all clothing, books, notes, and a few items of sentimental value. The loss of our books and notes was a great inconvenience, since we had to continue with the summer session,” she said. “Materialistically we were left with hardly anything except what we had with us. We were left with just memories and probably more important, we realized that sometimes all we really have is within ourselves. With courage and tremendous effort, we began anew.”
Tosco said a new dormitory was expected to be completed the following year that would offer “co-ed facilities, the most modern conveniences, and a commercially-run cafeteria.”
“The passing of the “old” dorm will bring many changes to the campus, but the purpose will still be the same: to educate and graduate better practitioners of horticulture and landscape design,” she said.
Both East and West Hall and the Dining Hall opened in 1965. While West Hall today primarily houses faculty and staff offices, East Hall remains exclusively a residence hall. The Dining Hall also opened its doors in 1965. In the following year, the campus stable closed and the last horse was sold.
“As for horse husbandry, the university tried to justify its continuance, but announced in 1965 that it was being ‘regretfully terminated.’ Readers will be pleased to learn that only the program was terminated, not the horses,” according to the unpublished history. “These fine animals, some now past their prime, were sold with the greatest of ease to women who had fond recollection of those days when they, too, were just a bit younger and were part of Ambler.”
There were about 60 students at Ambler when Udell arrived as dean, he said, “and about 600 when I left.”
“Students were able to start the first two years of their four-year programs,” he said. “You couldn’t complete your degree at Ambler at the time.”
According to “The People’s History,” even with the new residence halls and other facilities, Udell did not have a smooth road to travel, particularly when it came to faculty.
“Unfortunately, a few of the department heads seemed to think of Ambler as a kind of academic Siberia to which they could banish without embarrassment those men and women who represented, for whatever reasons, departmental problems,” according to the historical account. “Udell had to handle each case diplomatically and on an individual basis, but in general such problems receded as Ambler’s place in the scheme of things became fully understood on the main campus. Ambler was not a junior college; it was Temple University in microcosm.”
Udell agreed faculty in those early years as part of Temple were often “not too anxious to be out here.”
“But I think the faculty changed to a degree. I think they recognized they could work intimately with students, which is very satisfying,” he said. “It was a very nice setting. I remember at one point I wanted to build a platform in Bright Hall Commons where students could speak their mind with immunity to any repercussions. It didn’t really take off, but I thought it was a good idea — I still like it.”
In 1968, a stage of a different sort was built at Ambler. Performances by Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, and Van Cliburn marked the debut season of the Temple Music Festival and Institute, ushering in a time of expansion and growth on campus.
“I thought it was a wonderful thing,” Udell said. “There were opera singers, plays, musicals, it was just superb. It was a very high-class, cultural addition to the community.”
In 1971, Dr. Sidney Halpern started his 11-year tenure as dean and began the transformation of Ambler to a four-year campus. Enrollment would reach an all-time high of 6,500.
Junior- and senior-level courses were offered at Ambler for the first time in 1972 in areas including: humanities, business administration, teacher education, the social sciences, and journalism. The current Library and Computer Services building opened as a “general use” building in 1973.
“(Halpern) was a driving force. He drove and drove to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish for this campus,” said Bonnie Frumer, Assistant Dean for Curriculum and Planning who began teaching mathematics courses at Temple in 1968. “Enrollment went skyrocketing in the late 70s and early 80s. The question is how did we fit them all, how did we manage so many students? I’m not quite sure.”
In the earliest part of the enrollment boom, “all registrations were done manually,” Frumer said. There were no computer systems to help the process along.
New facilities didn’t come until 1978 with the addition of Widener Hall. Dixon Hall followed in 1983 with new science labs and classrooms on the site of the original dormitory, a site that, according to Frumer, was literally a large hole in the ground before the new building we completed.
Kevin Freese, former Assistant Dean of Academic Services, got his start at Temple as a student at Ambler in 1977.
“The late 70s were chaotic in its way. Registration meant going to a designated room and standing in line, hoping that computer punch cards (of the courses offered) would match up with the classes you were trying to put together,” he said. “The stakes were high for seniors.”
Freese said though Ambler might be considered a small campus, students were afforded excellent opportunities to gain new experiences.
“I remember Dean Halpern asked me and some of the other student leaders to take Fitz Eugene Dixon to dinner. At the time, (Dixon) owned the Philadelphia 76ers and was Temple’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees,” he said. “The reason we were taking him to dinner was to thank him for the funding he contributed for Dixon Hall. I was so impressed that the Dean trusted us, we went unescorted.”
That dinner was also the first time that Freese had encountered escargot, an experience with a far from desirable effect.
“I immediately spit it out and hit Mr. Dixon right in the middle of the tie with the snail,” he said with a laugh. “I thought I had ruined everything. But Mr. Dixon was truly interested in the students at Ambler — he thought it was hilarious. He gave me his tie.”
In 1984, James Blackhurst took the mantle of Ambler’s dean, a position he would hold until his retirement in October 1995. Blackhurst came to Temple after a long, esteemed tenure at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
“I think one of the things that we were able to do was greatly increase the migration between the Ambler campus and the Main Campus. In 11 years, 20,000 graduates had attended Ambler for some part of their education,” he said. “We wanted students to experience the vitality of the city and have the Main Campus experience as well as experiencing the suburban population of Ambler. It gave students exposure to the pastoral and the urban and an appreciation for both.”
In 1987, Temple approved the formation of bachelor’s degree programs in Landscape Architecture and Horticulture — Ambler remains the official home to both programs. Two years later, the Landscape Architecture program received accreditation from the American Society of Landscape Architects.
The emergence of the four-year degree programs in the two disciplines in 1987 is something that Blackhurst is most proud of.
“The Horticulture and Landscape Architecture programs were developed into strong programs that were appropriate for an urban university. They started focusing on urban environmental planning, which was something that hadn’t been done before,” he said. “One thing that I always liked about Ambler was that an individual’s job description might be at the center of what they did, but it wasn’t a boundary. No one was inclined to say ‘that’s not my job.’ They were people that if something needed to be done, they did it.”
In 1988, John Collins came to Temple Ambler to help steer the fledgling four-year programs as a professor and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture. In practice with his own landscape architecture and environmental planning firm for 25 years, Collins “needed some soldiers,” in the battle to preserve the environment, he said.
“I wanted students that would look at nature, not pave over it. The thing that really excited me was the potential combination of horticulture and landscape architecture,” he said. “Nationally they had been growing further and further apart. I can’t separate the two. I don’t see them as isolated entities.”
Blackhurst, who grew up in a small town in Iowa, said he always liked the feel, “the idea,” of the Ambler campus.
“I always felt that every campus has its own culture,” he said. “With Ambler, you have this big city university and at the same time you have this sense of community and trust that you might find in other parts of America. I think it gives students opportunities to grow and be themselves.”
In 2001, more than 4,700 traditional and non-traditional students were attending classes at Temple University Ambler and at the Fort Washington Graduate and Professional Center, which opened in 1997 as a result of a renewed burst in enrollment.
Under the direction of Dean Dr. Sophia T. Wisniewska, who began her tenure in 1999, programs central to the Ambler campus — Landscape Architecture, Horticulture, and Community and Regional Planning (established as a program in 2002) were officially recognized as Ambler College, the 17th college of Temple University, in spring 2000 as part of an ongoing effort to enhance the programs and services offered to both students and the surrounding community.
“This new academic structure will help to give us a stronger identity and help to strengthen our relationship with the Main Campus,” said Dr. Wisniewska of the transition to college status. “It's important that we use this new status to develop our strengths, to create our own niche — our own voice — for higher education.”
In March 2000, the campus was officially designated an arboretum by the University Board of Trustees. The Center for Sustainable Communities was established shortly thereafter in July 2000 and awarded a $1.5 million federal grant.
“The Center allows us to expand upon our research and outreach mission, and it will showcase the campus as a scientific resource, a living laboratory for environmental concerns,” Dr. Wisniewska said.
Building upon the unique history of the campus, the Center serves as a local and regional resource that facilitates the development of collaborative solutions in land-use planning and management, environmental protection, ecological restoration, and community revitalization through education and consulting initiatives.
“As part of Temple, I think (Ambler) was noticed and then not noticed. I think now people are sitting up and saying ‘Hey, look at Ambler, maybe we should be taking more notice,’” Frumer said. “I think in particular the grant funding for the Center was a great thing. I think the impact of it, the recognition, was a good thing for Ambler in moving toward the future.”
In 2002, the Temple University Board of Trustees approved bachelor's and master's degrees in Department of Community and Regional Planning. Twenty-five students in the master's degree program have graduated to date.
In September 2002, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated an historical marker commemorating the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women at Ambler. The marker is located near the campus entrance on Meetinghouse Road.
On April 22, 2003, Temple University Ambler held its first "EarthFest" event, an outdoor educational celebration of Earth Day hosted by the Center for Sustainable Communities. Temple provides a full day of interactive events and exhibits promoting environmental awareness and the use of sustainable concepts, methods, and practices to protect and preserve our environment. At EarthFest, organizations, businesses, colleges, high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, and individuals demonstrate sustainable concepts and technologies, and provide interactive educational displays, activities, and more.
In Spring 2004, NCAA sports came to campus for the first time. New fields, part of a $4.5 million project, were opened to serve as the full-time home for the Temple University men's soccer, women's soccer, baseball, and softball teams. In September 2004, Ambler broke ground on a new Intercollegiate Athletics Field House, which was officially opened in October 2005. The building includes coaches' offices, equipment rooms, a weight-training facility, locker rooms and storage areas and is comprised of a central hub with two off-shooting "wings" giving it a distinctive owl design.
In November 2004, Temple University Ambler broke ground on a new Learning Center. The Ambler Learning Center is the focal point for state-of-the-art teaching technology and provides new instructional space for use by many academic departments.
The Learning Center, funded predominantly by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and designed by BLM Architects of King of Prussia, includes "smart" classrooms, fully integrated technology including wireless access throughout the building, five computer lab/classrooms, a math, science, and writing center, a video editing lab, art studios, a café, and a 300-seat auditorium.
Construction on the 72,000-square-foot Learning Center, located between the Dining Center and the Library Building, began in May 2005.
In September 2005, Dr. James W. Hilty, a nationally recognized professor of history and member of the Temple University faculty since 1970, was appointed acting dean at Temple University Ambler. Coordinator of History at Ambler for many years and first chair of the Ambler Collegial Assembly, Dr. Hilty is overseeing the innovative changes and additions coming to campus with the opening of the Learning Center and the establishment of the School of Environmental Design.
In October 2005, with the help of a $50,000 grant from PECO Energy, Temple University Ambler dedicated and important addition to the Ambler Arboretum, the PECO Green Roof Garden, atop the Intercollegiate Athletics Field House. A green roof is a living biological community of plants and microorganisms that provides an environmentally sound alternative to a traditional roof system.
Continued research involving the green roof garden includes the acquisition, study, and cultivation of new plant material; continued study of the green roof's impact on energy efficiency, water quality, water retention, and roof temperature; development of a green roof course and additional independent study programs; and increased educational outreach programs to promote green roof technology.
In 2008, the Ambler Arboretum formally dedicated the Philip and Barbara Albright Winter Garden followed by the Arboretum's most recent additions, the Ernesta Ballard Healing Garden and the Colibraro Conifer Garden.
In June 2009, the Temple University Board of Trustees formally approved the School of Environmental Design in the College of Liberal Arts. The School of Environmental Design builds upong the important work of the former Ambler College, incorporating Temple University Ambler's well regarded "green" programs and institutions - the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, the Department of Community and Regional Planning (CRP), and the Center for Sustainable Communities.
In January 2010, William Parshall was appointed Executive Director of the Temple University Ambler and Temple University Center City campuses. Mr. Parshall has a distinguished record in leading TUCC since 2001. He helped to grow the number of students at TUCC from 2400 in 2001 to about 4000; and students at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, for retirees over age 55, from 500 in 2001 to a level that is on track to reach 800 students this year.
In Fall 2010, Temple University Ambler began offering a Master of Landscape Architecture degree for the first time.
In January 2014, Dr. Vicki Lewis McGarvey, Vice Provost for University College, was appointed acting Director of Temple University Ambler to guide the campus into the next phase of its history.