The Dunn Family: A Living Legacy Rooted at IU



A White Flowering Dogwood in the early stages of its life growing outside of Franklin Hall.
“The trees bring a sense of eloquence to the campus, providing a green aspect to not make it a barren landscape,” Jared Rigdon said.

The preservation of remembrance for one’s life is usually recognized as a headstone; however, the Dunn Family have set a legacy at Indiana University that carry their name in the thousands of green giants speckled around the campus.

After James Dunn moved to Virginia from Ireland in 1762, he began his family legacy that would soon include a judge, military leaders, and vocal abolitionists. The Dunn name was well-known for their persistent assistance to the public community, which includes land donations to many schools in Indiana, among them what is now Indiana University Bloomington.

As the location of Indiana University moved from its original location to Bloomington in 1883 due to a fire, the governor of Indiana noted a small 20 acre patch of land known as Dunn’s Forest for its unmatchable beauty. Before donating the land, an agreement was made that for every tree cut down, two more must be planted in their place. Nearly 200 years later, the agreement is still respected by the living spectacles that cover the campus in a shady canopy across the 1,937 acres. With every planted tree brings with it not only the beauty of wildlife but also beats the lifeblood of the Dunn family legacy intertwined with the donors of the tree back into IU once more.

The awe-inspiring tree line grew in popularity as IU became a well-known campus for its natural beauty, receiving the respect from former President Theodore Roosevelt when he visited in 1918 for a commencement speech.

“I shall always keep in mind this scene here in the open by the university buildings, a university which, in what we are apt to think of as a new nation, is approaching its centenary, here under these great trees, these maples and beeches, that have survived over from the primeval forest,” President Roosevelt said.

The legacy brings with it a combination of a stunning landscape and areas of study for students, whether through official university guided study or mere curiosity.

“IU has been regarded as one of the more beautiful campuses in the country,” DJ Fezler, future IU freshman, said. “Paying attention to plant life, planting trees, and ensuring flowers are planted is all a part of the IU experience, not only the high-quality education, but the beauty of the campus.”

Many ranking systems include Indiana University Bloomington among the most attractive campuses in the United States of America because of its architecture and the unmatchable amount of green space offered.

“I think it’s something really important because I think that the green space on campus is what makes IU stand out compared to other universities. Other schools just don’t have what IU has and I really think that’s because of the trees and the amount of nature we have. It makes it feel more real,” Colin Shassberger, junior, said.

The trees come with the added benefit of not only increasing the public life of students but also an immersive education with botanology classes, the study plants and their roles in the ecosystem. The undisturbed ecosystem of Dunn’s Forest allows for the scientists of IU to study and grow their education in the field of plants and the many wildlife that coincides with them. Science classes often take trips to the site to spend class time observing the patterns of the lifestyle. Species of the trees vary throughout, allowing for a diverse choice of specimen to study with differences of diameters up to 50 inches.

As IU grows larger in a global presence, all who visit the campus will be informed of the famous ‘Tree Promise,’ able to bring the legacy of the Dunn Family away from its roots at IU and onto a global stage.

“I give tours for IU and I learned about the promise when I was learning to give my tours. It’s one thing that I always tell my visitors right towards the beginning of the tour in Dunn Woods,” Shassberger said. “Especially for visitors, it is really important for them to see that IU is a really pretty campus and there is a reason for it. It is something we all care about.”