Dayton History

 Dayton History

Marie Aull established the Midwest’s first National Audubon Society nature center

By Leo Deluca

Known as the godmother of the Miami Valley environmental movement, Marie Aull lived from 1897 to 2002—her 105-year life touched an incredible three centuries. In 1957, Aull made history by establishing the Midwest’s first National Audubon Society nature center.

“Marie Aull was determined,” says Pokey Huffman, one of her younger friends and a co-member of the Garden Club of Dayton. “She taught us all passion and the great responsibility we had for protecting our Earth.”

Founded in 1922, the Garden Club of Dayton—a member of the Garden Club of America—seeks to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening, aid in the protection of native species, and encourage historic preservation, civic planting and general knowledge of nature. Marie Aull, one of its first members, carried this mission to historic levels.

Married to Dayton box manufacturer John Aull, Marie was widowed in 1955. Two years later, she donated 70 acres of their idyllic property to Miami Valley residents—a swath of land that has since expanded and is now known as Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm. Not only is Aullwood the Midwest’s first Audubon nature center, it is one of the nation’s finest.

“I believe her real journey began after her husband died,” says Huffman. “Having no children her passion for conservation and horticulture, which they both shared, intensified. She was driven to educate all around her to safeguard the planet, to avoid the abundance of waste all around us. She wanted to protect the environment when it was not really on any of my contemporaries’ radars.” 

Marie Aull was ahead of her time. In 1957, when she first approached former National Audubon Society President John H. Baker about creating Aullwood, it would be another 12 years before the Cuyahoga River Fire—Cleveland’s pollutive disaster—helped fuel the modern day environmental movement. Conservation was a nascent concept, and Aull was a visionary.

Five years later, when proposed development threatened the springs and creeks surrounding Aullwood, her reputation was sealed. Aull purchased the 120-acre Antrim Farm adjacent to the nature center, donated a portion to the National Audubon Society, and augmented her natural sanctuary with a family farm—complete with livestock, crops and reverence for agrarian life.

“Marie taught me to look at nature and life in ways I never had known,” says Huffman. “I feel I learned about the big picture from her, while learning even small steps really do make a difference.”

In 1977 the Aull house, its private garden and a $300,000 endowment were given to Five Rivers MetroParks; in 2000 a new education wing was named for her; and in 2002 Aull died at age 105, her ashes spread at Aullwood, alongside her husband, beneath a 500-year-old sycamore tree.

Today, Marie Aull’s legacy lives on amongst the woods and wildflowers and animals of Aullwood. “Marie saw life’s value and wanted to protect it,” says Huffman. In the end, perhaps that is all that really matters.