The Department of Horticulture of the University of Maryland at College Park has a long distinguished history. Classes in horticulture were offered at the Maryland Agricultural College in 1859, its first year of operation. In the college's fifth circular for the school year 1863?64, a "Horticulture Department" is mentioned. Its mission was to:" teach practically all the nicer and finer operations of gardening, which do not generally receive much attention on the farms, and also to cultivate the taste for flowers and ornamental gardening."
Horticulture instruction has continued uninterrupted to the present, despite changes in the name and structure of the school.
The first professor of pomology, the study of fruit culture, at the college in 1859 was Townsend Glover, who also taught natural history and botany. Glover left the college in 1863 to resume his former position as an entomologist for the U.S. government. The Department has always maintained a slant toward pomology, but since 1940 great strides have been made in olericulture, the study of vegetable culture. In more recent years, the curricula in the areas of landscape management and floriculture have been expanded.
From the beginning, the department placed importance on providing students with empirical fieldwork to supplement classroom instruction. The charter granted to the Maryland Agricultural College by the Maryland General Assembly in 1856 mandated that the college maintain a farm on which students could labor. In the late 1870's, President Parker established a ten acre experimental farm. Dr. A. Grabowski oversaw the farm's operations for four years while teaching classes in agriculture. This prototypical farm was operational ten years prior to passage of the Hatch Act.
With funds from the Hatch Act in 1888, which provided federal support to states for agricultural experiment stations, the Maryland Agricultural College established a station under the direction of Elijah Alvord. Headquarters for the station were established in the Rossborough Inn. The first horticulturist at the station was William H. Bishop, who was also listed as Lecturer in Horticulture for the college. The experiment station was significant because it added a research component to the Horticulture Department. In 1892 a greenhouse was erected on the farm for horticultural instruction and experimentation. Additional greenhouses were built in 1898.
The 1899?1900 college catalog lists four courses in the "Department of Horticulture", with a thesis required for the senior course. S. B. Shaw, a graduate in agriculture, presented the first horticultural thesis listed in the catalog, in 1904. The first B.S. degree in horticulture was not awarded until 1907.
The department went through a number of name changes in the first twenty years of the twentieth century: "School of Horticulture" (1913); "Division of Horticulture" (1915); and "Department of Horticulture" (1917). A reorganization in 1917 relegated the Department of Horticulture to the Plant Industry Division of the College of Agriculture.
The creation of the Cooperative Extension Service in 1914 enhanced the horticulture program at the College. The service was designed to coordinate agricultural efforts at the local, state and national levels. This added dimension of extension services complemented the teaching and research components already established within the department.
In 1918 Eugene C. Auchter was named head of the Horticulture Department. His acceptance was contingent on his being given control of all areas of horticulture at the college, including teaching, research and extension. Auchter stimulated a melding of the three components. Being the head of the Department of Horticulture and head of the Experiment Station subvented this process. The creation of the Graduate School in 1921 added a new phase to the Horticulture Department. The first master's degree was awarded in 1922 and the first Ph.D. in 1925. In 1923 the department graduated its first woman, just three years following the first female graduate of the University.
Providing practical experience for its students was always an objective of the department. This was facilitated by farms operated by the college. In 1914, the Ridgley Experiment Farm was established to study and research vegetables. However, support for vegetable research was limited in the early years, so this effort suffered. In the spring of 1928, 275 acres located three miles north of campus was purchased. This area, incorporating the "Weaver Farm" and the "Francione Farm", was developed with the help of Civil Works Administration labor in the early 1930's. This work was directed by John H. Beaumont, who had succeeded Auchter as head of the Horticulture Department in 1932. The extent of the development and utilization of this area is unclear, since it was sold nine years after its purchase. In 1938 the Nash and Hopkins tracts, totaling 506 acres, were purchased; this area became known as the Plant Research Farm.
On January 5, 1932, Holzapfel Hall, a new building for the Horticulture Department, was dedicated, culminating years of hard work on the part of E. C. Auchter. This was the first building constructed north of the farm road that cut through campus. The building enhanced the department's research and teaching components, but a lack of greenhouse facilities still plagued the department. Building new greenhouses was a concern of A. L. Schrader, who succeeded Beaumont as head of the department in 1935. His continued agitation culminated in the erection of new greenhouses in 1939. Due to constant flooding, they were moved in 1952 to an area east of Route 1.
C. H. Mahoney became head of the Deparment in 1940. His contribution was an expanded curriculum with more emphasis on olericulture. Mahoney resigned in 1946, and I. C. Haut becme head. Under his direction, laboratory facilities were greatly expanded to match enrollments after World War II. During Haut's tenure, notable achievements were also made in objective quality measurements of raw and processed horticultural products. A new four?year course in commercial processing of food crops was also initiated in 1947. These activities gained the department a world?wide reputation. In 1948, 99 acres near Salisbury were purchased, which became the Vegetable Research Farm; plots were first planted in 1949. The farm is especially noted for its research on virus?free strawberries, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.
Francis C. Stark succeeded Haut as head of the department in 1964. He was the first head since Auchter not to hold dual positions as head of the department and head of the Experiment Station. Under his direction, the research program at the Vegetable Research Farm was greatly expanded. Concurrently, work at the Plant Research Farm slowed, and all research at this farm was terminated in 1973. Bernard A. Twigg became chairman of the Horticulture Department in 1975 and was succeeded in 1986 by Bruno Quebedeaux.
In 1972 a review committee chaired by Dr. H. A. Rollins, Jr. of Ohio State University recognized the Horticulture Department as one of the top five such entities in the nation and the best on the East Coast. Today the department focuses on the three areas of teaching, research and extension. It is particularly strong in urban, environmental, recreational and landscape horticulture as well as the traditional areas of fruit and vegetable production and processing.