Student’s Interactive Map Project Shows Wellesley’s Past and Present

The bank of Lake Waban present day and archival photos.
Photo provided by Maggie O'Connor
December 4, 2018

Wellesley’s Christmas Tree Alley was once an unpaved path lined by Canadian hemlocks, a favorite spot at which Wellesley students could pause to admire the campus landscape. More than a hundred years ago, Rhododendron Hollow served as the setting for performances of The Tempest and Much Ado About Nothing.

Christmas Tree Alley and Rhododendron Hollow are two of 10 campus scenes portrayed in an interactive landscape map titled Landscape of Wellesley: Then and Now that Maggie O’Connor ’20 developed during her summer internship with the Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative.

“I hope that my project can act not only as a sense of information and nostalgia for past students, but also inspiration for current and future students,” said O’Connor.  “There are many different ways to interact with the landscape at Wellesley and hopefully my project can bring back some old traditions and spark some new ideas.”

A second summer intern project by Han Qiao ’19 focused on birds that populate the campus, and a third by Jessica Ostfeld ’20 featured the history of Paintshop Pond.  Rahwa Michael ’21 focused on an interpretive map of outdoor sculptures.

“Students spent some time learning to observe carefully the landscape, the plants, birds, other animals,” said Suzanne Langridge, director of the initiative. “They also explored the archives and related the history of the campus landscape to their current understanding and experiences.”

Using records from Wellesley Archives and with technical assistance provided by Library and Technology Services, O’Connor created a virtual tour of campus that features historical information about the sites along with archival photos and personal reflections from former students. 

The map offers a present-day aerial view of the campus. Users select a point and can then read about that location, scroll through photographs, and read relevant quotes from past Wellesley students.

O’Connor’s entry on Christmas Tree Alley includes this comment written by a student in 1945: “It is fun to battle up the hill along Christmas Tree Alley when a blizzard is doing its best to blow us back down again. Feeling our cheeks sting and our joints creak is a fairly pleasant price to pay for the view of Wellesley in winter dress.” A photo taken in 1978 accompanies the entry.

The Rhododendron Hollow entry has a description a student wrote for the Wellesley News in 1918: “The rhododendron is out, in the hollow. Bees drone lazily and the lake is lovely with the moon at night. Never has Wellesley been more beautiful that at the present.” The accompanying photo was taken sometime before 1931. 

O’Connor said the project acquainted her with the campus in a new way.

“There are a lot of hidden places on this campus because it is so expansive, and I definitely keep exploring and finding new things,” she said. “I’ve definitely gained a better understanding of how students interacted with the landscape in the past. This project helped me frame my own interactions with the campus and made me more deliberate and conscious of the time I spend outside.”

Photo: Maggie O'Connor's interactive map shows how the campus has (and hasn't changed) over time; Green Beach, pictured here in 2018 and 1978.