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Betsey Stockton Garden, a new green area between Firestone Library and Nassau Street.

By Joe Kawalec


As renovations continue in Firestone Library, the construction of the Betsey Stockton Garden between Firestone and Nassau Street is the newest addition to the exterior of the University’s main library.

The garden was named in April 2018 after Betsey Stockton, a slave in Maclean House in the early 1800s, as part of a campus initiative to recognize and honor “individuals who would bring a more diverse presence to the campus.” 

This garden is considered a “green roof” in the sense that it is above the subterranean B and C floors of Firestone that have existed since 1971 and 1988, respectively. It is populated by a variety of plants, including cherry blossom trees, that in turn attract birds and pollinating insects. Adirondack chairs are interspersed throughout “nodes,” grass spaces which are meant for public use.

“[The garden] is meant to be a new front door to the town from the University,” said Lorine Murray-Mechini, the current project manager of the Firestone Library Renovation Project. “I think it really encourages the community to come onto campus, and having the seating also encourages people to stay, relax, enjoy nature.”

Murray-Mechini is seeing the Firestone renovation through to its completion. She took over from Jim Wallace, a project manager for the Office of Capital Projects, back in March. 

The comprehensive renovations included replacing the waterproofing systems above the B and C floors, which allowed the University landscaper to “rethink the landscape.” 

“It was seen as an opportunity to enhance the landscape and encourage informal use of the area in ways that hadn’t been considered in the past,” Wallace said, referring to the transformation of the lawn cover into the public garden.

Compared to the mowed lawn cover, the meadow grasses and flowering plants now in place define paths and provide a way to experience the seasons, Wallace explained.  

Another important feature of the garden is a large sculpture by Louise Nevelson titled “Atmosphere and Environment X,” which was present before the renovations and had to be accommodated throughout the restoration process. It was moved to a temporary location for a year and then conserved and restored to its original site. 

The sculpture is part of the John B. Putnam, Jr. Memorial Collection. According to Wallace, its enhanced presentation was a priority.

“I think this is a nice addition, especially because it’s on Nassau and because it makes the University look a lot better than if there were simply fences around Firestone,” said David Friedman ’20. “It used to be just a pit and piles of dirt and I didn’t even want to walk around here, but this makes it look a lot nicer.”

A white rope previously blocked the pathways into the public garden, in order to allow the lawn and meadow time to establish themselves before people entered the garden, Murray-Mechini explained. Now, the rope is only blocking the native wildflowers and grasses growing in the soil on the sides of the path.

“It looks like a great place to catch up with friends, meet and hang out,” Friedman said. 

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