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Aven Nelson/Williams Conservatory
Aven Nelson

Built: 1924

Currently Houses: Williams Conservatory, Botany, Rocky Mountain Herbarium


Built in 1924 to house the University Library, the top floor east was the first permanent home of the UW college of Law, Formed in 1920. The building itself is named for one of the original five faculty at UW, a man who became nationally renowned in his field of botany, and spent several years as university president before stepping aside just as this building was completed.  Aven Nelson is the subject of a biography by Roger Williams as well as a recent book by American Studies associate professor Frieda Knobloch.

Few state in the West had sufficient funds to embark on building programs in the 1920s. This building is the happy result of decisions made by one of those “unsung heroes” of the university, a man named F. O. Sawin. Aven Nelson

Sawin, the brother of UW’s first mathematics professor, was the surveyor hired in the 1880s to select the university’s “land grant” lands. Sawin had come to Wyoming in 1872 from Kansas where his father had been a pioneer. He was appointed by Hoyt and Wyoming Governor F. E. Warren in 1886 to make the selections.  Among them were lands that became extraordinarily rich with mineral deposits, including the famed Big Muddy Oilfield near Glenrock. In 1916 the “university well” came in, providing substantial royalties to UW from which revenues were applied for construction of the new library as well as the new Half Acre Gym.After his work was completed for the university, Sawin prospected for gold in Colorado and Wyoming, and began surveying for the Wyoming Central Land and Improvement Co. The facilities now contain the largest collection of dried plants in the world- over 561,000 specimens.

The Williams Conservatory

The large glass additon was built in 1994. It serves as a hands on way to observe the natural world. Louis and Terua Williams were supporters of the Botany Department for many years. Terua met Louis in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she was a school teacher and he was an aspiring botanist. Under the guidance of Aven Nelson, Louis earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in the department. After receiving his Ph.D. from Washington State University, Louis' career took him to Harvard University, the Panamerican School of Agriculture in Honduras, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where he was head of the Botany Department. He retired in 1973. For many years, Louis was the editor of the Bulletin of the American Orchid Society. Because of Louis and Terua's generous support , UW was pleased to name the conservatory in their honor. The Williams Conservatory currently holds over 500 living plant specimens.

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