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Preserving the Warder Legacy.

View of Warder's manor house and the National Champion English oak that shades it.

As developers eye the blufftop estate of AFA'S founder, schoolkids are spearheading the drive to save it.

Tucked away on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River, just outside Cincinnati, stands a monument to American forestry-a monument not made of granite or wood, but of the labor of one man, Dr. John Aston Warder. At first glance, it appears to be a collection of old buildings and mature trees, but further inspection reveals a glimpse of forest history unequalled in the region.

However, like so many forests, this monument is threatened by man's progressing urbanization and development. This monument to forest history could be in danger of destruction from the saw, the bulldozer, and the wrecking ball. If this occurs, the remarkable efforts of one of our early forest visionaries may be lost.

John Aston Warder is probably one of the least-known early influences on American forestry. He was a physician and horticulturist who played a prominent role in the establishment of the American Forestry Association. For 20 years in the middle 1800s, he complemented a highly successful medical practice with an intense interest in trees and plants. He was widely published in the field of horticulture, and was considered an expert on fruit trees. In 1853 he first identified northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) as a separate and distinct species.

By the following year, Warder had given up his medical practice to pursue his interest in the natural sciences. He purchased a 325-acre estate owned by President William Henry Harrison and began what some people believe to be the first forest experiment station in the U.S. Many of Warder's experiments involved testing fruit-tree varieties, and in 1867 he published American Pomology: Apples, a compendium of descriptions and drawings of 1,500 apple varieties.

At his estate, Warder began planting a wide variety of trees, especially oaks, maples, and other hardwoods. Construction of a manor house was begun at this time, and was completed around 1872. The house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a fine example of period architecture. It is a massive stone structure with handcarved wood railings, mantels, wainscot, and paneling inside. According to historic preservationist Sandra Shapiro, the house reflects Warder's attention to detail, comfort, and utility. For example, the diamond-shaped interlocking roof tiles and drains were carefully designed to collect and store rainwater for household use.

By the 1870s, Warder had turned his attention to forestry. In 1873 he was appointed as a commissioner to the World's Fair in Vienna, and was charged with making a report on the state of forestry in Europe. In 1875, joining with other prominent scientists, he founded the American Forestry Association. In 1883, Warder was appointed by the federal government to the position of Forestry Agent for the purposes of reporting on the state of America's forest resources. His sudden and untimely death later that year cut short a brilliant career and left foresters like Fernow, Schenk, and Pinchot to take up the leadership role in American forestry at the turn of the century.

In addition to the estate grounds, another of Warder's living legacies can be seen in Cincinnati's Presidential Grove, a planting of trees in memory of each President, initiated during the 1882 Forestry Congress meeting. Warder is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, an unparalleled botanical collection he helped design. The last remaining unprotected legacy of John Aston Warder is his former estate, consisting of 240 acres and the 117-year-old residence.

Not only is Warder's estate historically significant due to the presence of the house, it also contains a diverse collection of trees and plants, many of which Warder collected on his trips throughout the U.S. and the world. Perhaps the most significant tree there is the current National Champion English oak (Quercus robur). Believed to have been planted by Warder around 1857, the tree measures 15 feet 10 inches in circumference, is 85 feet tall, and has a crown spread of 93.5 feet for a point total of 288. It has been a National Champion since 1984.

Other record trees found on the property include two Ohio champions, pecan and Ohio buckeye. Many are estimated to be over 100 years old.

An archaeological survey of the property reveals numerous remains of structures and landscaping features associated with Warder. The most important find was an intact stone foundation, presumably all that's left of a grist mill used by former owner William Henry Harrison.

In addition to the history, the champion trees, and the massive stone and tile house, there are two other attractions of the Warder estate. It commands a valuable view of the Ohio River and is within a half-hour drive of downtown Cincinnati-and thus is a prime development site. The estate, which is today privately owned, is being eyed by developers for a condominium project. Should this occur, the house and magnificent trees would be threatened with destruction.

Many individuals have organized to save the Warder estate. The driving force behind the effort is a group of students from nearby Three Rivers Middle School. The students are members of the National junior Honor Society, and have adopted the preservation effort as part of a community service and leadership project under the guidance of their teacher, Marney Murphy. What began as a student project has snowballed into a full-fledged preservation effort.

According to Murphy, "The students have taken the preservation task beyond the boundary of a normal school project, and some may end up directed toward careers in archaeology, horticulture, and journalism as a result."

Through an article in the local newspaper, the project came to the attention of Marlesa A. Gray and Kevin W.

Pape of Gray & Pape Cultural Resources Consultants, an archaeology and historic preservation consulting firm based in Cincinnati.

"It speaks well for the future of historic preservation in this country that young people such as these students are willing to work hard to preserve their cultural heritage,' said Gray.

Gray & Pape donated their services as preservation professionals and the resources of their company to assist the students in documenting the resources of the estate and securing support for its preservation. This work included completing surveys of the estate's archaeological resources, and bringing in other professionals to conduct historical and horticultural assessments.

"It is remarkable that so many diverse people see the preservation value of this property,' said Murphy. Through the combined efforts of the students and the professionals, a portfolio of information on the estate has been compiled and sent to over 80 preservation, philanthropic, and government organizations in hopes of securing the funding and leadership necessary to preserve the site.

What effect have the students had? As this issue went to press, a meeting was being held among parties seeking to preserve the Warder estate. According to Kevin Pape, the owners have agreed to sell the property to the Hamilton County Park Board if an acceptable price can be reached, and will receive tax credits as a result. The Trust for Public Lands has agreed to act as a "go-between" in the settlement.

The American Society of Landscape Architects has agreed to survey the property, assessing its horticultural significance. This survey will then be used to create interpretive programs and an overall "preservation plan. "

"Sometimes students are listened to more readily than adults," said Murphy, and she believes that this example of student leadership will set models for others in the community.

The Warder estate's future will be determined by dollars and sense. The students and their supporters agree that it makes sense to preserve the legacy of Dr. Warder, and the value of this property is well recognized by all who have seen it. According to Murphy, "Now it's only a matter of the right people stepping forward to make our ideas a reality. " AF
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Title Annotation:John Aston Warder
Author:Ries, Paul D.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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