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Evanston Illinois is a very special community. Since its very beginning, Evanston has been the home of intellectual idea-people, imaginative doers and strong individuals who at times have accomplished wonders by working together. Early settlers appreciated the lake, cared for it, and following the City of Chicago’s example kept much of the lakefront open for the use by all its people. Evanstonians also had an above-average interest in public health and supported the sanitary canal (finished in 1910) that kept sewage out of Lake Michigan by sending it out into the rest of Illinois.
In time, the huge mounds of earth and clay on both sides of the canal were hauled away. During WWII two-story barracks were built on the site for military personnel at Northwestern University. After the war the buildings were used by veterans studying under the G.I. Bill of Rights. In the early 1950s, the buildings were torn down leaving a desolate area.
In 1956, when Edward R. Ladd, publisher of the Evanston Review, died, his friends decided to honor him by creating a city park. Since all the best sites were taken, they settled on a long, narrow strip of waste land on the north side of the canal that ran from Green Bay Road to Emerson Street.
Since Mr. Ladd was a charter member and second president of the Rotary Club of Evanston, his club took great interest in the project. Ralph Melin, a landscape architect and also a member of the club, created a plan for an arboretum in 1957. The City Council appropriated $10,000.
The citizens of Evanston were enthusiastic. They raised money and helped plant trees. The Ladd Arboretum was formally dedicated on June 10, 1960. On Jan. 26, 1961, the Rotary Club of Evanston voted $12,000 for trees to create an International Friendship Garden. Each tree was to represent a Rotary member country.
The plantings began in 1962, when John Emery was both president of the Rotary Club and mayor of Evanston. When the first Rotary International president from India, Mr. Laharry, planted a locust tree in the garden, Mr. Emery sent photographs and information about the event to every Rotary club in India.
Fifty years later, it seems to many as though the Arboretum has existed forever. It is a sanctuary enjoyed by living things from birds and butterflies to humans. It is a center for passive recreation, education, and nature study. Every day hundreds of people enjoy this area. Some bring their bikes, their children or their dogs.
Today, the Ladd Arboretum and its International Friendship Garden stand as a monument to what Evanstonians, city and citizens, can do when working together.