By Kate Meehan and Steve Meehan
A piece of Chestertown’s living history came to its end this week. Having grown too large for its home for over a century, the American elm (Ulmus americana) at the corner of North Queen Street and Church Alley had to come down.
The venerable old tree had begun to decline. With its great size and area with an impervious surface surrounding it, it could not reach enough moisture and nutrients to survive. Branches were not able to produce foliage and die-back was evident. The tree tried to compensate by sending out supplementary roots to search for food and drink. The tree’s roots had buckled the sidewalk and was posing a hazard to citizens and property.
Originally planted in a time of “city beautification,” the elms provided a good solution–they are long lived and moderately fast growers. Unfortunately, their habits don’t change over time and the Queen Street elm had outgrown its homesite.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll explained that it had been judiciously pruned of deadwood many times by Delmarva Power and Asplundh Tree Expert Company until the companies reached the decision that the tree required more pruning than could be safely provided and that it should be removed. Unstable limbs overhead on Queen Street–both busy with vehicular traffic and as a neighborhood of walking residents and tourists–would be too risky. The decision was made to remove it. It did not have Dutch Elm Disease.
The tree was located in front of 106 and 108 N. Queen St., the homes of Brian and Kathryn Walters and Ralph Morgan, respectively. The elm was planted in the 1910s during a period when street trees were encouraged for beautification and other aesthetic and environmental reasons. In Chestertown, it was led by the Ladies Improvement Society, the beginnings of the Chestertown Garden Club.
The current property owners applied to DNR’s Big Tree program. The tree was declared a Champion American elm in October 2017.
“The tree was there and it was obviously a big tree,” Morgan noted on the impetus for applying to the Big Tree program. The process took six months during which DNR experts catalogued all aspects of the tree before naming it a champion American elm.
The DNR survey issued in October 2017 reported the tree was 99 feet tall, 14 feet in circumference, and the average crown width was 91 feet for a total of 290 Big Tree points.
The tree was the largest American elm on the Eastern Shore at its demise.
The survey also noted, “Root growth severely restricted on street side. Tree divides in to multiple leaders 20’ above the ground. There is a large dead branch in the crown.”
North Queen Street has a number of trees that now look a quite a bit taller than when the great elm towered over them. Once the stump and roots are removed, the sidewalk can be replaced. This will restore that portion of the block to its intended streetscape. This is a great opportunity to covert another downtown block to brick.
The history of the Queen Street elm has been well recorded and will become part of the fabric of our town’s record.