How we came to be

The story of Buttonwood Nature Center, home of The Institute, began in 1990. The Institute (then called Renfrew Institute for Cultural & Environmental Studies) was created as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) educational organization, primarily for the development and funding of school programs.

As interest in the school programs soared, so did the development of additional programs and workshops for adults and older teens. Weekend events and festivals for families were created and summer programs and workshops became part of the Institute experience.

For more than 30 years, The Institute (now Buttonwood Nature Center) has created and delivered immersive place-based programs for students of all ages, providing opportunities to learn about their cultural and natural heritage.

Research in cultural history and natural science are ongoing at Buttonwood. Studies have included research on the American chestnut tree, bluebird nesting practices, colonial textiles, historic buildings, and native and invasive plant species, while ongoing studies and areas of focus include water quality in the Antietam Creek, watersheds and wetlands, wildlife and preservation.

Moving on, moving forward…

The Institute was formerly based at Renfrew Museum and Park. In 2020, an unexpected disruption compelled The Institute to leave its campus of 30 years. Like a mature 30-year-old, “leaving home” turned out to be the best way to ensure continued growth. We are still evolving—answering the environmental and cultural education needs of an engaged and curious public.

In 2021, The Institute purchased a 40-acre rural property in Washington Township, Pa., a few minutes drive from downtown Waynesboro. The purchase was made possible with a cornerstone gift by the Nora Roberts Foundation.

On April 3, 2024, The Institute’s name was officially changed to Buttonwood Nature Center. This property, and our new name, represent our commitment to establish an independent nature center that will serve as an organizational headquarters and community hub for the next 30 years and beyond.

In addition to a nature learning center, Buttonwood will also be a place for area families to enjoy outdoor recreation, picnics, nature, and the arts.

Buttonwood is not yet open to the public, pending infrastructure improvements. A new bridge is required to allow public access, and work will commence in spring 2024.

Until completion of the bridge, visits may be arranged privately.

We hope you will join us as we work together to create experiences that educate, inspire and unite!

To read more about why The Institute left the Renfrew property, click here. 

“Buttonwood Nature Center will continue The Institute’s tradition of offering quality environmental and cultural programs to the students and adults of Waynesboro. We are lucky to have such a valuable asset to our community.”

Bill & Debbie Pflager, members