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100th Anniversary Celebration of UW's Aven Nelson Building Scheduled Jan. 26

January 19, 2023
black and white vintage photo of a man sitting on the ground with piles of papers
Aven Nelson, a University of Wyoming botanist, shows books of plant specimens in Yellowstone National Park in 1899. The Aven Nelson Building, named after UW’s 11th president and one of its charter faculty members, will have its 100th anniversary celebrated Thursday, Jan. 26. (UW American Heritage Center Photo)

The Aven Nelson Building, named after a well-known botanist and the University of Wyoming’s 11th president, will celebrate its 100th anniversary Thursday, Jan. 26. The UW campus and Laramie communities are invited to attend.

“My idea for this event was to share, with the campus community and beyond, the significance of the Rocky Mountain Herbarium and the lasting legacy of Aven Nelson’s pioneering botanical work on the flora of the Rocky Mountains,” says David Tank, a professor in the UW Department of Botany and director of the Rocky Mountain Herbarium, who is the chief organizer of the celebration event. “This legacy is represented best by the herbarium -- in the 100-year-old Aven Nelson Building -- and, specifically, Nelson’s collections that are preserved and tell the story of botanical exploration in Wyoming and the Rockies.”

Nelson was an American botanist who specialized in plants of the Rocky Mountains. He became acting president of UW in 1917 before serving as president from 1918-1922; was one of five UW charter faculty members, beginning in 1887, who taught at UW for 55 years; and was the founder of the Rocky Mountain Herbarium. Nelson served as president of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists and the Botanical Society of America.

The anniversary celebration schedule is as follows:

-- Herbarium tours, Aven Nelson Building, third floor, 5 p.m. and 5:45 p.m.

-- Reception and exhibits, Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

-- “A Century of Nelson,” presented by Aspen Brown, a UW graduate student from Laramie majoring in history, Berry Center auditorium, 7 p.m.

The Aven Nelson Building, the fifth-oldest existing building on campus, is significant in that it was previously the original UW Library Building, says Greg Brown, a professor in the UW Department of Botany and associate curator of the Rocky Mountain Herbarium.

“In the late 1950s, the building underwent major renovation and, in 1959-1960, the Department of Botany and the Rocky Mountain Herbarium, which occupies the entire third floor, were moved into Aven Nelson,” says Brown, who also is deputy director of programs for the UW Science Initiative. “It also is one of a few buildings on campus on the National Register of Historic Places and, thus, now cannot be modified on the exterior to change the original appearance of the building.”

For example, when the structure’s windows had to be upgraded over 10 years ago, the aluminum-framed windows -- that were used to replace the original windows in the late 1950s -- had to be replaced with wood-framed windows that look like the originals, Brown explains. 

Ernie Nelson, senior curator of the Rocky Mountain Herbarium, says the herbarium was originally located on the top floor of Old Main. Citing the book “History of the University of Wyoming: 1887-1964,” Brown adds that the herbarium was in Old Main until 1925-26 before it was moved to the old Engineering Building. The herbarium remained there until it was moved to the Aven Nelson Building in 1959-1960.

“Today, this herbarium ranks 14th out of more than 600 in North America,” Brown says. “The Rocky Mountain Herbarium is the largest in the U.S. between St. Louis, Mo., and Berkeley, Calif., and now ranks in the top 1 percent in the world.”

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