T H E    H I S T O R I C    T R E E S    P R O J E C T

Documented Historic Trees

The following is a list by state of some of the trees I have visited and photographed.
More pictures and pages are forthcoming.


.


California

The Lone Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), Seventeen Mile Drive, Monterey

A lone Monterey cypress clinging to a ridge of bare rock above the Pacific has inspired countless artists drawn to it's spectacular sublimity.  It is a favorite of sightseers who come daily by the hundreds to snap a picture.  The Monterey cypress species' native range is a mind boggling single square mile on the California coast near Monterey.  Since its discovery it has become a favorite specimen tree around the world.  The Lone Cypress is the symbol of the Pebble Beach Company and has been copyrighted.


Connecticut

Charter Oak Exhibit, State Library Atrium, Hartford, October 9, 2001

The early Colony of Connecticut enjoyed an independent, self-reliant government under the terms of the Royal Charter granted in 1662 by King Charles II of England.  After James II became king, the New England colonies were governed by his representative, Sir Edmund Andros.  Andros was not favorably disposed to dealing with Colonies accustomed to governing themselves.  Friction between the colony and the king’s representative increased and on October 31, 1687 Andros arrived in the capitol of Hartford to demand the surrender of the charter.

Legend states that the evening of the meeting between the king’s agents and colony officials was a stormy dark night.  Suddenly the candles blew out and in the ensuing darkness someone grabbed the charter, ran into the night and stowed the document in a cavity of an old white oak (Quercus alba).  The charter was not found by Andros and stayed safely stowed beyond King James’ reach.  Andros ordered the colonial government dissolved but soon thereafter was himself recalled when King James abdicated the throne.  Colonial government under the charter returned and the new king's representatives determined that since the original Royal Charter had never been surrendered it was still valid.

The Charter Oak toppled in a windstorm on August 21, 1856.  Today in the Connecticut State Library atrium resides a permanent display about the Charter Oak.  A painting of the tree hangs above the original 1662 charter.  The Royal Charter is housed in a vault and framed in wood from the Charter Oak.  Also on display are various relics from Connecticut’s favorite tree.

Pinchot Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Route 85 at the Farmington River, Simsbury

With a trunk 25 feet in circumference and a branching spread of 138 feet, the Pinchot Sycamore is the largest tree in Connecticut.   Gifford Pinchot was born in Simsbury and likely knew this hulk of a tree dedicated to him in 1965.  Pinchot, an early and influential conservationist, along with Teddy Roosevelt helped found the US Forest Service.


Washington Oak (Quercus alba), Gaylord Road and Newton Road, Gaylordsville

George Washington is said to have had lunch and held council with his staff (including Lafayette) and troops beneath the tree on his way from Tappen, NY to Hartford, CT on September 20, 1780.  In Hartford an exasperated Washington would meet with the Comte de Rochambeau and other French officers to persuade them to finally enter the War of Independence.


Granby Oak (Quercus alba), Day Street, Granby

The Dewey family farmed the adjacent land from 1734 to 1976 and cared for the low branching oak.  Throughout the 1980's various citizen groups volunteered to maintain the tree.  In 1997 the small lot the tree stands on was put up for sale and a young couple nearly bought it as a house site.  Quickly local activists lead by the town historian rallied public support to save the tree, the town symbol.  The couple withdrew their offer and the lot was bought as a park with funds raised by the Granby Land Trust.


Waldo Homestead Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), Waldo Road, Scotland

The black walnut is the oldest tree in Connecticut for which a planting date is known.  The date was recorded in the Waldo family bible as having occured in 1797.  The tree is the largest of its species in New England
.

Ashford Oak (Quercus rubra), Old Oak Road off Route 44, Ashford

The Ashford Oak with its 26 foot circumference trunk was long a landmark on the colonial Hartford Boston turnpike.  For many years it was the national red oak champion tree.









Florida
Treaty Oak (Quercus virginiana), Jessie Ball duPont Park, Jacksonville

Though undoubtedly an extraordinary specimen, it's historic connections are tenuous at best.  In an effort to save the tree from developers, a journalist early in the 20th century reported an unsubstantiated traditional account of the tree serving as a treaty site for local Indian tribes.  His white lie worked and years later in 1964 the land was purchased by the Alfred duPont Foundation and donated to the city of Jacksonville.  The land was to be used, "only for a park, one of the purposes of which is to preserve the ancient oak commonly known as the Treaty Oak . . . for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public".


Georgia
picture coming Lover's Live Oak, Brunswick
picture coming
Lanier Oak, Brunswick

Indiana
picture coming Council Oak stump, Highland Cemetery, South Bend

Louisiana
Evangeline Oak (Quercus virginiana), St. Martinville

The famous live oak of St. Martinville stands next to the Bayou Teche where the town warf was once situated.  The story of Evangeline and Gabriel as told in Longfellow's poem "Evangeline" in truth begins in Nova Scotia, Canada.  In 1755 the English Governor cruelly forced the French Acadians to swear allegience to the crown and forswear their Catholicism or to leave.  En masse, the Acadians were unceremoniously herded into ships and sent southward.  They became aliens in a strange land, divided from one another and their culture.  Many found their way eventually to Louisiana, a French colony.  A couple betrothed in Canada became divided yet found their way seperately to the warf of St. Martinville.  Louis Arceneaux ("Gabriel") arrived first and waited. Three years later Emmeline Labiche ("Evangeline") arrived-with her wedding gown-only to learn that Louis, believing her lost forever, had married another.  Heart broken,  Emmeline died a few months later  in St. Martinville.  The tragic story became an epic of the suffering Cajun people.

Lafitte Oaks (Quercus virginiana), Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, New Iberia

Jean Lafitte, pirate, privateer and hero of the Battle of New Orleans, often took refuge from trouble and American authorities at his brother-in-law's home on Jefferson Island.  Legend or wishful thinking had it that Lafitte buried some of his privateering treasure on the island.  A discovery in 1923 by a garden laborer gave the legend surprising credibility.  Near the ancient Lafitte Oaks were buried three pots containing  Spanish, Mexican and American gold and silver coins dated 1740 - 1821.  Here some of the coins are held by a Rip Van Winkle Garden interpreter.

Dueling Oak (Quercus virginiana), City Park near the New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans

In the early nineteenth century duels were all too common in New Orleans.  Duels with foils, sabers, rapiers, bowie knives, poison pills, pistols and shotguns are recorded.  A pair live oaks far enough removed from the city were a favored site for Creole gentlemen to settle disputes of honor.  As many as 10 duels in a day might occur sometimes witnessed by two or three hundred spectators.  By the mid 1800's the live oak forest was being used as an informal park and the police began to enforce the laws against dueling.  No duels are known after 1891 when the 100 acre Allard plantation was donated to the city as a park.  Only one of the Dueling Oaks survives today.  A crypt of unknown provenance lies beneath.

Cathedral Oak (Quercus virginiana), St. Johns Cathedral, Lafayette

An incredible tree thought to be 450 years old and is the third largest known live oak in the US.


Maryland
Lutheran White Oak (Quercus alba), Manchester

In 1758 King George III granted a charter to three German colonists of Manchester, Maryland to start a church by a particular white oak, even then a landmark.  The original building made of logs has since been replaced many times and is today called Immanuel Evangelical Episcopal Church.  The original tree, however, is still healthy at an estimated 320 years and is called the Lutheran White Oak.


 Wye Oak (Quercus alba), Wye Mills  deceased

The Wye Oak of Wye Mills, Maryland is not associated with any particular historic event or person.  Due to its age, in excess of 400 years, however, it created its own notable history.  The white oak, whose trunk measured thirty feet in circumference, began to gain notice in the mid-nineteenth century for its size.  By 1919 it was inducted into American Forestry’s hall of fame and by so doing helped to instigate the search for national Big Tree Champions.  In 1939 the Wye Oak State Park was created around it.  At the time that it fell in a windstorm on June 6, 2002 it was still the largest White Oak known in the United States. 

Witness Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Antietam

On the morning of September 17, 1862, 12,000 Union men tried to cross an exposed bridge at Antietam Creek.  Only 450 Georgia sharpshooters positioned on a bluff opposite the creek were able to push back repeated charges for three and a half hours.  Over 22,000 Americans lost their lives that day at the bridge and elsewhere at Sharpsburg.  Discernable in photographs taken days after the battle is a sprig of a sycamore tree next to Burnside Bridge.  Today it is known as the Witness Sycamore in honor of that day’s events.
picture coming

Minnesota
Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Ceremonial Oaks (Quercus macrocarpa), Highway 55, Minneapolis (destroyed)

Four bur oaks aligned to the four directions and sacred to the Mdewakanton Dakota community became the flash point of a two-year protest.  The trees, traditionally used in burials and ceremonies for 140 years, stood in the path of a proposed highway reroute.  Environmental and Native American groups cooperated in an occupation of the site under constant police surveillance.  Ultimately the courts decided the highway had the right-of-way and the state cut down the trees on December 11, 1999.  The wood was recovered by the Native community for ceremonial purposes.

American Elms (Ulmus americana), Victory Memorial Drive, Minneapolis

In 1921 the city of Minneapolis planted rows of American Elms along 3.5 miles of road, one tree for each of the World War I soldiers lost  from Hennepin County.


New York
"Big Tree" oak trunk preserved behind Geneseo Historical Museum, Geneseo

By the early nineteenth century the Seneca Nation's power was waning and colonial speculators were eager to purchase their land.  A council was called at the village of Big Tree and the Senecas were pressured to sell four million acres for $100,000.  The Indian village was probably later confused in legend with an actual big tree.  In 1857 the "Big Tree", 29 feet in circumference, finally fell.  Local citizens saved part of the trunk and it is still on display some 140 years later.

picture coming
Sacred Grove of Joseph Smith, Palmyra
Scythe Tree (Populus deltoides), Waterloo

In 1861, James W. Johnson enlisted in the Union army to fight in the Civil War.  On the day of his enlistment James hung his scythe in the crotch of a cottonwood tree growing in the front yard of the family farm.  He asked his parents to leave the scythe in the tree until he returned.  In 1864 James died in a Confederate hospital in South Carolina.  The scythe was never removed and the tree grew around the steel blade until only the tip is visible today.  More scythes were placed there during World War I.  The tree has become a living memorial to lost soldiers of the neighboring towns.

Torture Tree (Quercus), Cuylerville

In the 1779 western campaign of the Revolutionary War, General Sullivan's army burned and pillaged its way through western New York in pursuit of the Seneca Indians, allies of the British.  Outnumbered and outgunned the Senecas made a stand a Little Beard's Town.  The Senecas managed to capture two colonial advance scouts, brutally tortured them and left their remains at the torture tree.  The army upon finding the corpses destroyed the town ventured no further west.


Oklahoma
Survivor Tree (Ulmus americana), Oklahoma City National Memorial, Oklahoma City, OK April 20, 2001

On April 19, 1995, a terrorist bomb killed 168 people in or near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  A previously unremarkable American elm in the parking lot across the street was stripped, scorched and blackened by the blast.  Surprisingly, the tree releafed and became a symbol of resilience to the community and nation.  During the design of the new National Memorial the survivors and surviving family members requested that the Survivor Tree take a prominent position.  A state forester was assigned to assure its return to health.  Aeration and watering systems were designed and installed under the present raised platform.  The trench for the wall surrounding the tree was hand dug and roots were carefully bridged. 

Seminole Whipping Tree (Carya illinoensis), Wewoka

The Seminole tribe originally formed in the late 18th century as a loosely knit organization of many tribal and freedman groups seeking refuge in the Florida
EvergladesStarting in the 1830's the United States government forcibly removed the Seminole, small groups at a time, and sent them to Indian Territory, later known as Oklahoma. 

In the Treaty of 1866 the U.S. government organized the self-governing Second Seminole Nation (1866–1907). Wewoka was established as capitol.  The new government of the Seminole was built on the representational form that had been used in the tribe for generations.  A Council of elected elders served as court with the Chief acting as judge.  Ten appointed Light Horsemen enforced laws.  If a suspect was found guilty of a minor crime he was sentenced to lashes across his bare back with a hickory switch at the Whipping Tree in front of the Council House.  Those guilty of a major crime such as murder were shot by firing squad at a nearby Execution Tree.  

The Curtis Act of 1898 replaced the Indian laws and courts with federal laws.  All tribal governments ceased operation in 1906 and the new State of Oklahoma eventually absorbed Indian Territory.  The Whipping Tree, a pecan, stands in front of a modern Seminole County Courthouse



.

Pennsylvania
Battle of Gettysburg witness tree, (Quercus bicolor) near Sickles Headquarters, Gettysburg

This swamp oak witnessed the Gettysburg Civil War Battle.  Six other trees survive that are believed to have also been witnesses. 


Moon Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Washington Square, Philadelphia  

Within a small metal fence and within sight of Independence Hall grows an unassuming young sycamore tree.  However, this tree was grown from seeds carried to the moon and back by Astronaut Stuart Roosa on his February 1971 Apollo 14 flight.  The tree was planted on Earth on May 6, 1975.


Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) at LaFayette’s Quarters, Brandywine Battlefield, Chadd’s Ford, September 29, 2001

In 1777 the British General Howe undertook a campaign to reach Philadelphia, the new capitol of a new nation, from the Chesapeake Bay.  By September, General Washington and his army of 11,000 occupied the high ground around Chadd’s Ford in the hope of blocking Howe’s army of about 15,000 men.  On the morning of September 11 the two armies met.  Howe sent a decoy column directly at the Americans while the bulk of his troops secretly flanked their Chadd’s Ford position.   British superior tactics and better knowledge of the landscape soon outmaneuvered the Americans.  By mid-afternoon Washington ordered a retreat.  On September 26 Howe took Philadelphia without a fight.

The Marquis de LaFayette, aide to Washington, experienced his first battle at Brandywine.  He was quartered the night before at the stone farmhouse of Gideon Gilpin (visible on the right).  After the battle the British troops plundered the same farm for supplies.  Today, a large sycamore estimated to be over 320 years old stands a few yards west of LaFayette’s quarters and has been rumored (incorrectly) to be the spot where LaFayette’s leg wound was dressed.  In 1825 LaFayette returned to the site to visit Gilpin and the tree.

Lafayette Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Valley Forge National Historic Park PA September 29, 2001

This oddly shaped sycamore stands a few hundred yards from General Lafayette’s Headquarters at Valley Forge. It is estimated to be 275-325 years old, which means it would have been a witness to the winter encampment of 1777-1778.  One source   speculates that the tree’s unique shape may have been a result of its extremities being used by soldiers for firewood or poles.

Texas
Treaty Oak (Quercus virginiana), Austin, April 29, 2002

In a park in the capitol city of Austin grows the last survivor of a grove of live oaks once called the Council Oaks.  Legend states that it was here that Stephen F. Austin closed the first boundary line pact with Indians.  Austin, the Father of Texas, fostered the foundation of early Anglo settlements while Texas was still part of Mexico.  In 1927 the American Forestry Association proclaimed the Treaty Oak to be "The most perfect specimen of a North American tree."  The small quarter-acre park was established by the city when in 1937 the current owner intended to cut down the tree.  In 1989 the Treaty Oaks story took a horrible turn when a vandal poured a large amount of herbicide under the ancient oak.  The tree soon went into shock losing three sets of leaves.  A blank check was written by Ross Perot to finance the landmark’s rescue.  Throughout the summer Herculean efforts were made to heal the tree: three and a half feet of contaminated topsoil were removed and replaced, 60 foot tall shade screens were erected around the tree and spring water was misted onto the leaves every half hour.  The Treaty Oak has survived and is healthy today but the loss of many limbs has rendered it a shadow of its former self.  It turned out that the vandal was a star-crossed lover who had proposed to his wife under the tree that he later wished to kill. 
Muster Oak (Quercus virginiana?), LaGrange, April 29, 2002

In 1842, fifteen volunteers mustered beneath this Live Oak to resist an invasion of Texas by the Mexican General Adrian Woll.  The tree, near the county courthouse, has since been the mustering point of men who have served in the Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish American War and the two World Wars. 


Vermont

Sugar Maple (Acer sacchaum), Coolidge Homestead, Plymouth Notch, October 5, 2001

In August 1923, Vice President Calvin Coolidge returned to his boyhood home for a vacation.  The famously quiet and unassuming politician set about repairs that needed to be done around his parents’ house.  A news photographer made a picture of Coolidge tending to the sugar maples in front of the house on August 2.  That night Coolidge received word by telegraph that President Harding had died.  Calvin and his father, a notary public, stepped out in front of the house, beneath these trees, and at 2:47 AM swore the oath of office of the President of the United States.  Silent Cal is reported to have gone back to bed.

Virginia
Chatham House Catalpa's (Catalpa bignonioides), Fredericksburg

According to Walt Whitman, who volunteered as a nurse at Chatham House while it was used as a Union hospital,  a pile of amputated limbs tossed from the hospital window lie at the base of these two catalpa trees. Today they are gnarled yet stubbornly holding on to life.

Emancipation Oak (Quercus virginiana),  Hampton University, Hampton

Outdoor classes composed of enslaved African Americans had long been held under this tree.  In 1863 under the limbs of the Emancipation Oak, Union soldiers first read the Emancipation Proclamation to the freed African American community of Hampton, Virginia.  Near the oak, five years later, Union Army Brigadier General Samuel Chapman Armstrong founded Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University), a school for young leaders of a recently emancipated people.

Tulip Tree, (Lirodendron tulipifera), Monticello, Charlottesville

Jefferson, like Washington, was a great lover of trees.  At his home at Monticello Jefferson grew 160 tree species, exotic and native.  While Minister to France he distributed seeds of North American trees to friends.  At the end of his life he designed an arboretum for the University of Virginia.  While a few of the trees Jefferson planted survived into the 1990’s only one original tree (c. 1800) is alive today; the tulip poplar outside his bedroom window. 


White Ash (Fraxinus americana) planted by George Washington, Mount Vernon, VA  September 26, 2001

Next to a path at Mount Vernon traveled by hundreds of visitors each day stands a massive white ash planted by George Washington.  Washington is known to have been a great lover of trees.  His diaries of 1760-1788 include more than 10,000 words about tree plantings and observations of tree habits and growth.  Mount Vernon is home to thirteen tree specimens that George Washington planted around 1785 when he improved his serpentine walk.  They include white mulberry, white ash, Canada hemlock, two 130-foot tall tulip poplars and American holly.


Is there a historic tree that you know of that you would like to see photographed and preserved?  I'd love to hear from you!  Email me at jeffkrueger at earthlink dot net.


Return to the top of page.



home    /    introduction    /    the historic tree list    /    tree bibliography    /    historic tree web links
about the photographer