Before becoming an arboretum, the area was part of a working farm, and served as a pasture for the Cornell Department of Animal Science’s herd of Black Angus cattle. In 1935, 200 men from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) set up camp south of Cascadilla Creek, and worked in what is now the arboretum for six years. Through all seasons, they cleared and graded the land, constructed stone walls, built roads, and planted trees. By 1941, they had built four miles of roads and eight miles of paths, prepared seven thousand cubic yards of compost, and planted thousands of trees and shrubs. Feeding, clothing, and paying these men cost the government about $200,000. A similar project today would cost over ten million dollars.
In 1981, with the encouragement and financial generosity of Floyd R. “Flood” Newman ’12, the arboretum’s construction continued, taking care to follow the area’s topography and making maximum use of existing plants. During the Cornell Class of 1912’s 70th reunion in 1982, over 100 guests attended the dedication of the F. R. Newman Arboretum.