As you leave Jennings Hall and begin to make your way down College Drive, take note of Longmeadow, which stands to the east of Jennings. Longmeadow was formerly home to Miss DeWild, housekeeper and assistant to Mrs. Jennings. Miss DeWild was responsible for many of the landscaping efforts around the early campus. Much of this work has since been removed, as her plantings, although beautiful, relied heavily on exotic honeysuckle bushes—now considered an invasive shrub.
Earlier in Bennington College history, this road was lined with American elm trees, creating a beautiful tunnel of green during the summer months. At the time, elm trees were considered to be ideal “street trees,” as they are graceful, long-lived, and tolerant of urban conditions such as compacted soil and air pollution. Across much of eastern North America, these trees lined streets and boulevards. However, as with most of the North American elms, the elm trees here succumbed to Dutch elm disease, an exotic fungal disease that devastated elm populations throughout New England and elsewhere beginning in the 1930s. Despite the impacts of Dutch elm disease, American elm can still be found in many forests of the area, as the trees tend to reach to seed-bearing age just before succumbing to the disease. With aggressive prevention plans to block the spread of the disease, a few cities including Calgary and Winnipeg still have large populations of healthy adult elms lining their streets.
Today, instead of the majestic elms, a variety of shade trees line the roads, interspersed with open views of the campus fields. See if you can spot any of the following: Black Walnut, White Ash, American Basswood, and of course, Sugar Maple. History seems likely to repeat itself, however, as there is a constant barrage of exotic tree pests threatening our native trees. One example is the Emerald Ash Borer, which has virtually eliminated ash trees in southern Michigan and other Great Lakes regions and has recently been found in the Catskills of New York.
This section of the road also is home to a variety of herbaceous (non-woody) plants, including clover, milkweed, dock, yarrow, several asters (i.e. star-shaped flowers similar to daisies), and many types of goldenrod. The diversity of plant life makes this a prime area for butterfly-watching, including the impressive Monarch butterflies that feed on poisonous milkweed plants in the summer before heading to Mexico on their famous migration. Other frequently spotted butterflies include Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Cabbage Whites, Clouded Sulfurs, Red Admirals, and Mourning Cloaks.
White-tailed deer are commonly encountered along this road and in the fields at all times of the year, crossing from one patch of trees to another and stopping to snack here and there. Keep an eye out for jagged, torn shrubs and other vegetation in your explorations of campus…a sure sign of a munching deer. Also common are the many Wild Turkeys in residence on campus. The hens and their young will frequently band together in multi-family groups, which account for the enormous “turkey crossings” that can be seen on College Drive, especially common in the fall and winter months. Wild Turkeys are a New England conservation success story, as they were once completely eradicated due to habitat loss and over-hunting. Thanks to land conservation efforts, re-introduction programs, and well-regulated hunting seasons, these amazing birds are back throughout the New England states with their characteristic gobbling and fantastic plumage displays.
Before turning toward CAPA, take a look across the field and VAPA parking area to get a look at Shingle Cottage, the oldest building on campus. It is believed that Mr. and Mrs. Jennings lived in this saltbox-style house while the Jennings’ mansion was being built. Robert Frost, the famous poet, also lived in Shingle Cottage in the late 1920s and is buried a few miles away at the Old First Church Cemetery.