Durfee Plant Houses

Title

Durfee Plant Houses

Subject

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Description

In 1867 Dr. Nathan Durfee donated $10,000 towards the construction of a series of greenhouses on the Massachusetts Agricultural College campus. Architect T.A. Lord designed a series of five buildings which were named the Durfee Plant Houses after the project’s patron. Built on the east side of campus, near Stockbridge House, the five Victorian conservatories had curvilinear glass rooves trimmed with wrought iron supports, and were completed before the campus was even opened to students.

The main house layout consisted of a central octagonal room with two sixty by thirty foot wings attached. A small side wing projected from the northeast corner of the main octagonal chamber. This building also housed a potting and work room. Outside, two fifty by twelve foot propagating pits created space for growing certain plants. To the north of these buildings, Lord engineered a reservoir that fed water into a heating and aerating tank over the potting room. In the rear of the main building, Lord added a botanic museum. The entire area of the structure covered approximately 5,000 square feet.

The plant houses were designed to house at least 1,300 plant specimens, inculding rare and beautiful exotic plants, as well as the seeds for planting and books on plant studies. Each of the five buildings housed a different series of plant specimens. The Dry Stove housed cacti and succulents, the Moist Stove housed tropic plants, the Palm House exhibited cool/temperate trees and shrubs, and the Victoria House held aquatic and air plants. These buildings also provided the residence for plant-related experiments. For example, college President Clark performed an experiment on a chili squash to measure plant growth.

In 1883, the Durfee Plant Houses caught on fire. Although the structures did not burn down completely, the fire caused serious damage. Fortunately, students saved many of the plant specimens which were later placed in the rebuilt greenhouses. Reconstruction of the buildings occured over the course of the next decade, with the aid of $10,000 donated from Leonard M. and Henry F. Hills for repairs shortly after the plant houses were initially constructed. By 1892, the area the structures covered had increased by 2,000 feet. The new design not only increased the size of the conservatories, but also displayed a more business-like façade. A lighthouse-like glass tower now housed a giant Agave americana, or American aloe plant.

Responding to the changing needs of the MAC and students of plant studies, as well as the increased use of Durfee’s facilities, the college sponsored a new series of greenhouses to stand next to the existing Durfee structures in 1908. This addition included a series of greenhouses and a two-story brick building of classrooms and labs, which became known as French Hall. Together, French Hall and the Durfee greenhouses became known as the “New Durfee Range” and later the “French Hall Greenhouses.” With maintenance and the ocassional improvement, the Durfee Plant Houses remained standing separately from the French Hall Greenhouses.

While the Durfee Plant Houses remained in use, as of 1954, the structures were falling apart. The same designer of the initial Durfee Conservatories re-designed a new structure to go over the original buildings. The new design intended to highlight the continuity of the historically older sections, while refreshing the integrity of Durfee’s orginial function.

Creator

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Source

UMass Special Collections and University Archives

Publisher

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Date

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Contributor

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Rights

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Relation

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Format

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Language

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Type

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Identifier

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Coverage

RG150-0004139, RG150-0004147, RG150-0004146, RG150-0004155, RG150-0004149

Original Format

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Physical Dimensions

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Files

RG150-0004139.png
RG150-0004147.png
RG150-0004146.png
RG150-0004155.png
RG150-0004149.png
Date Added
August 29, 2012
Collection
Orchard Hill
Item Type
Still Image
Citation
“Durfee Plant Houses,” Lost UMass, accessed May 29, 2017, http://lostumass.omeka.net/items/show/9.