Stop 6—Jennings Hall Overlook

 

Sugar maple.

Currently, the grassy meadows in front of Jennings Hall provide sweeping views that connect the building to the rest of campus. In the early days of the College the United States’ involvement in World War II required that this land be used  for “Victory Gardens” to produce much of the vegetables needed in the campus dining halls. Students engaged in farm days, when classes would be cancelled for the day and everyone worked the rows and fields instead.

This is also an excellent spot for observing the brilliant autumn colors that make Vermont a favorite fall destination. With a few exceptions, most leaves to not actually “change” color in the fall, instead, their already-existing colors are revealed. In most deciduous (leaf dropping) trees and shrubs, the decreasing daylight of the autumn season triggers the plant to cut off the supply of nutrients and minerals to their leaves in preparation for abscission (leaf drop)—including the chlorophyll pigment necessary for photosynthesis. Chlorophyll breaks down in sunlight, so if it is not replenished, the green color in the leaf will fade, revealing the oranges and yellows pigments within. Red and purple leaves are another story. The pigments responsible for them (anthocyanins) are produced as the sugars trapped inside the leaves break down. All of these pigments break down in the sunlight and in freezing temperatures, so their brilliance is fleeting and leave behind only the pigments responsible for brown colors (tannins).

If you walk through Jennings Hall, out through the back doors and past the stone pillars, you will find the area where the Jennings family once kept formal gardens. Just beyond the old rock wall that surrounded these gardens, there is a large sandy hill.  Excavations of this sand (some of which has been used in campus construction projects) revealed a deposit of pure clay beneath. Deposits of pure clay generally only form where there is standing water (since it is composed of very small particles slowly settle out of water), yet this deposit is found on a hill. This implies that at one point there was a lake where this hill now stands. The larger hill on which our campus lies was formed at the terminus of a glacier that once flowed down the valley between the Taconic and Green Mountains. The lake from which the clay was deposited likely existed near the terminus of the glacier, possibly dammed behind ice or behind a higher portion of the hill near Jennings. The sand on top of the clay was likely deposited by rushing water as the glacier melted further about 13,000 years ago.

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