|Location: Central Quad, by the Main Library and the Undergraduate Library • northeast corner of Gregory and Mathews •||Official Address: Crop Sciences • 1102 S. Goodwin Ave • Urbana • IL||Date of construction: 1876||Constructed by George E. Morrow and Manley Miles||Inspiration: Rothamsted Field, England||National Historic Landmark since 1968||
Departmental Affiliations: ACES • Department of Crop Sciences
History of the Morrow Plots
The Morrow Plots may appear to be nothing more than an incongruously placed cornfield, yet this sells them far short: the Morrow Plots are, indeed, not only almost as old as the University itself but also the oldest experimental agricultural fields in the United States. Indeed, they are the second-oldest such fields in the world, coming second only to the English Rothamsted Field, which was first seeded in 1843 and, much like the Morrow Plots, continues to be in use today.1 Indeed, the experiments conducted at Rothamsted Field helped inspire the Morrow Plots, as in 1875 the chemist C.W. Silver, who had visited the Field during his travels in Europe, wrote an article in the Daily Illini advocating for a similar research field at the University.2 Additionally, after the Plots were already in action as a working agricultural research field, George E. Morrow, namesake of the Plots, future Dean of the School of Agriculture, and one of the important figures behind the Plots, visited Rothamsted Field to see them for himself.3
Eight years after the University of Illinois was founded, in 1876, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Morrow, Silver, and agriculture professor Manly Miles,4 the Morrow Plots came to life on the University of Illinois campus. In 1876 they were considerably larger than their present size, and over the years they became considerably smaller, their land slowly parceled off to other campus building projects. Today, three plots remain; they have been in near-continuous use since their inception.5 Indeed, the Plots have consistently lived up to their founders' dreams, providing research with practical implications for the farmers of Illinois since their inception.
Myths, Legends, Facts, and the Morrow Plots
Most likely because of their location in the heart of the Quads, near the Observatory, the Main Library, the Undergraduate Library, and the Institute for Genomic Biology, the Morrow Plots have inspired a prodigious number of myths and urban legends among the University of Illinois student body. It is claimed that running through them will get the criminally-inclined student expelled from the University, which bears a wee touch of truth about it: while the student probably will not be expelled, the Daily Illini has pointed out that the consequences for trespassing are indeed severe.6
However, every student's favorite story is likely that surrounding the unique construction of the Undergraduate Library. Unlike the Main Library, and indeed most other libraries, the Undergraduate was built entirely underground; even its outdoor courtyard is below ground level. It was designed to minimize impacts on the Morrow Plots... and, also, to avoid casting shadows on the growing corn (or soy, or whatever else may be planted in a given year).8 Other construction projects have been similarly modified,9 and the Morrow Plots, thanks to such careful stewardship, continue to provide practical research for the midwestern farmer (and the agriculture student!) of the twenty-first century.
Mumford House, another piece of the University's history (albeit one, as of 2013, no longer in use).
The Morrow Plots: A National Historic Landmark (1968), a book digitized by the Internet Archive with funding provided by the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. The book is freely available in several formats, including pdf, Kindle, and EPUB.
The Morrow Plots: A Landmark for Agriculture (2001), Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
The Morrow Plots on a UIUC campus map (for navigational purposes)
The Morrow Plots: A Century of Learning, from the Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, offers many beautiful, detailed graphs, as well as a whole lot of information.
Popular University urban legends debunked, a 2012 Daily Illini article which touches briefly on the Morrow Plots and some of the legends surrounding them.
College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES); College of Agricultural and Consumer Economics (ACE); Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE), University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.
Department of Crop Sciences, ACES, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
National Register of Historic Places nomination form, Morrow Plots, 1968.
Rothamsted Research, the English inspiration for the Morrow Plots (and the oldest ongoing agricultural research fields in the world).
8 Several sources, including The Morrow Plots: A Landmark for Agriculture and Popular University urban myths debunked. (Also, hang around campus for about thirty seconds, ask about the UGL, and you'll hear this one... because we all love it, even grad students.)