UConn: The agricultural school on one really big piece of farmland

Students participate in Sunset Yoga at Horsebarn Hill on Friday, Sept. 1. The event was hosted by Counseling and Mental Health Services.  Photos by Kimberly Nguyen / The Daily Campus.

Students participate in Sunset Yoga at Horsebarn Hill on Friday, Sept. 1. The event was hosted by Counseling and Mental Health Services. Photos by Kimberly Nguyen / The Daily Campus.

One of the most popular attractions at the University of Connecticut Storrs Campus is Horsebarn Hill; but the topography of the land there was at one point extended all throughout what is now UConn’s main campus, according to UConn professor of geology Robert Thorson.

“What I’m trying to communicate here is the science story behind the birth of UConn,” Thorson said.  “The campus buildings align with the glacial frame.”

The glacial frame, Thorson said, is made from the soil and rock that was naturally pressed and shaped into the hills that Horsebarn Hill is known for today.  There’s no reason to think that these hills were confined to just on one side of route 195, Thorson said. They extended all throughout present day campus and still do today through various ridges and bounds.

“Horsebarn Hill is one of those rounded hills in general,” Thorson said.  “And so is the one under Beach Hall. And Storrs Hall. And most of the campus.  Basically the idea is that the farm is successful because of that material.”  

The material Thorson is referring to is the prime soil that makes UConn such great farmland — both today and in the 1800s.

“It starts with Storrs Agricultural School. It had 13 students,” Thorson said.  “You’re not going to found an agricultural school on a crummy farm.”

Thorson said today’s hills are still on campus, just not as exaggerated.

“If you go from Austin to Koons, you have to go up a hill and then down a hill.  The Wilbur Cross building ridge was flattened,” Thorson said. “When you lay Koons Hall down in 1906 it set the pattern for all the rest.  The buildings flattened those things [hills].”

Before UConn grew to be what it is today, however, parts of campus were integrated to Horsebarn Hill-like hills, Thorson said.  One building in particular, Old Main, stood out to Thorson.Old Main in 1890 was perched on one of these hills,” Thorson said.  “Imagine Horsebarn Hill with an academic building on top of it.”  

Most college campuses lay on flat ground or are even integrated into a city.  UConn is different because of its roots, Thorson said.

“Charles and Augustus Storrs [gave] this land to make a small, agricultural school,” Thorson said.  “Why did they do it? They did that because the land was still productive enough. This is upland, not lowland area.”  

Thorson wrote “The Shape of Storrs,” a self-proclaimed “lyrical” essay, which appeared in UConn Magazine and included a whimsical video to help better tell in a creative way the story of how UConn came to be.

“This is UConn’s creation story,” Thorson said.  “That’s the way I think of it, shrouded in the past, but this one isn’t mythical.  It’s actual.”  

After the release of “The Shape of Storrs,” Thorson came out with a more detailed, fact-filled piece entitled, “The Shape of Storrs: A Technical Addendum.”

“The purpose is I love the place.  I wanted to share it,” Thorson said.  “The main purpose is to let people know that geoscience matters.”  


Luke Hajdasz is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at luke.hajdasz@uconn.edu