The Illini Grove was one of the first research plots established by the university, predating its more famous neighbor, the Morrow Plots. According to university library archives:
“Trees were first planted in 1871, and additional plantings were made for the next 40 years. The purpose was to show farmers of the prairie state the benefits of trees as sources of firewood and fence posts and of shelter.”
Some of the first forestry courses offered in the United States also began in 1871, led by Thomas J. Burrill who was early researcher of plant pathology. The College of ACES offered an undergraduate major in Forestry until 2003, after which the curriculum was rolled into the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences degree program.
The grove used to expand past its current borders, losing ground to building development for the Lincoln Avenue Residence hall and McKinley Health Center. In an effort to preserve what was left of the grove, ownership was transferred from the College of Agriculture to the School of Physical Education to be turned into a designated picnic area in 1951.
Today the grove has a picnic area, tennis courts, a sand volleyball court, and a basketball court that you can reserve through Campus Recreation.