A little history on the Prairie

John S. Quimby is a former business manager of the College. (The Seal 1940)

Every day people walk across the open area in front of Green Hall. With two intersecting paths that divide the lawn into four parts, some refer to it as the “quadrangle.” Quimby’s Prairie is this area’s official name, however, and unlike the vast majority of namesakes at the College, this one did not necessarily come about out of respect for the man it is named after.

This man was John S. Quimby.

A couple years ago, an Ambassador told me that allegedly Quimby was an administrator who worked in Green Hall but lived in a house on the other side of Lake Ceva, and, thinking his wife was cheating on him, ordered all of the trees chopped down so that he could spy on her during the day.

This story is certainly very interesting, but it is not exactly the reason that Quimby’s Prairie received its name.

Quimby was not just any administrator; he was the College’s business manager. Throughout the ’30s and ’40s he handled financial transactions and oversaw much of the current campus’ development (in previous articles I’ve mentioned that the College used to be located in Trenton). Above all, however, Quimby was known far more for his immense dislike for people walking across the grass in front of Green Hall.

Quimby's Prairie is named after John Quimby. (Brianna Gunter / Managing Editor)

“He took his job very, very seriously, and one of the things that gave him the most headache was when people insisted on walking across or making paths on ‘Quimby’s Prairie,’” said former faculty member Adelbert K. Botts in a filmed 1982 interview that was part of the College’s “Living History” program. Botts came to the College in 1940, becoming the head of the geography department and then the dean of men.

Botts said that at the time, there were no paths on the lawn. In order to get to buildings on the other side, people therefore had to walk all the way around it or brave their way across the grass.

In a 1981 interview, also from the “Living History” program, Professor Emeritus of Industrial Arts Conrad J. Johnson remembered how exactly the area’s name came about: “That lawn was his and he didn’t want it disturbed, so it became known as Quimby’s Prairie. And I hear it — and I’ve laughed about this many times, that name came up as sort of a derision. ‘Quimby’s Prairie, don’t put a foot on it.’”

According to Johnson, the only time it was “acceptable” for people to walk across the grass was during graduation. Graduates held candles and sang to each other around Quimby’s Prairie, he said, after which they would walk across.

Although there are no records that say it was because he wanted to spy on his wife, Quimby did order trees to be cut down (past maps of the Ewing area show that a small forest used to extend in front of Green Hall). This did not sit well with students.

“Wait till you see the footprints across Mr. Quimby’s lawn on the morning of the first big snow,” wrote the editors of the Dec. 4, 1936 edition of The Signal. “And speaking of the front lawn, we’re still sore at him for cutting down all those nice trees. Only God can make a tree, but boy we can cut them down!”

Quimby’s overall demeanor likely played a role in their opinion of him. In the 1939 edition of The Seal, he was compared to none other than Ebenezer Scrooge. “And Scrooge … well, some say he reminded them of Mr. Quimby!” This note, which was in a section describing that year’s holiday festivities, was quickly followed immediately by a note from the yearbook editor that said “Whoever it was, was on the right cent!”

Of course, as members of the College community in 2011 we may never really know what Quimby was truly like as a person. Still, may we think of him often as we walk across his prairie, particularly when we walk on the grass.