Time Machine Tuesday: Arbor Day

Coming up on Friday, April 22, we celebrate Earth Day.  The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970.  It grew out of the celebration of Arbor Day, which also took place in April.  Arbor Day, a day for planting trees, began in Nebraska in 1855.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Arbor Day became very popular, especially here on the Plains, where trees are in short supply.  In Denver, Mayor Robert W. Speer heavily promoted Arbor Day; hundreds of trees were planted in City Park, the Denver parkways, and other places around the city under his watch.  The popularity of Arbor Day coincided with the City Beautiful Movement, a nationwide movement encouraging city planners to incorporate parks, parkways, and aesthetically pleasing architecture into urban planning.  The movement arose after Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Scenes from Mayor Speer’s Arbor Day tree planting in 1911.  Photos from Denver Municipal Facts.

Arbor Day was also a popular celebration in the schools.  School children would learn about nature and assist in tree planting.  It became so popular that Colorado’s Superintendent of Public Instruction issued books of Arbor Day songs, poems, and activities for use in the classroom.  You can find many of these here in our library.  You can also find information on Colorado schools’ Arbor Day celebrations in the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s biennial reports.  For instance, see page 32 of the 1891-92 report for a summation of that year’s activities and how they tied in to the declaration of the Columbine and Blue Spruce as Colorado’s State Flower and State Tree.  The following year’s report reprints the Act declaring the third Friday in April to be Arbor Day in Colorado.  Each of the biennial reports are available from our library.