Preserving what might be Lebanon’s last remaining American elm tree, with roots in history dating to Washington

3 min read2,020 views and 240 shares Posted September 29, 2020

Lebanon’s stately, centuries-old American elm tree, believed to be the only one left in the city, is getting rejuvenated.

The two-step preservation process, by Jon Schach, of Good’s Tree and Lawn Care, Harrisburg, got underway on Sept. 15. Schach told LebTown that he injected fungicide to protect the tree from infection by bark beetles, which can spread Dutch elm disease fungus when feeding. Over the winter months, he will then prune the elm and add some support cables.

“The City of Lebanon is fortunate to be working with an (International Society of Arboriculture) board-certified master arborist to preserve a significant tree in our history,” Mayor Sherry Capello said in a release.

The Google Streetview of Lebanon’s potentially last remaining American elm tree.

The American elm, or Ulmus americana, was a popular shade tree throughout U.S. history, even before the Revolution, until it was ravaged by Dutch elm disease in the 20th century. Dutch elm disease, which entered the U.S. on European shipments of unpeeled veneer logs, was first observed in Ohio, in 1930. By 1976, only 34 million of the estimated 77 million elms present in urban locations remained, and far fewer are around today, the Research Station website noted.

Founding Father George Washington took over leadership of the Continental Army under an American elm tree in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As the release noted, the American elm was an early symbol of national independence. “The Liberty Tree” in Boston “was an emblem of promise and a gathering site for patriotic citizens … until British soldiers destroyed it as a final act of hostility during a hurried retreat in 1775.”

A close-up of the elm tree and its history. (Lexi Gonzalez)
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The Lebanon elm – said to be more than 300 years old – was standing when Washington traveled here, Capello told LebTown.

Around 1797, the then-president visited the area several times to keep tabs on the construction of the Union Canal, Capello wrote in an email. She said Washington also stopped in “Steiztown” (Lebanon) on his way to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. He is documented to have stayed at the Tulpehocken Manor in Myerstown and lore has it that he also stayed at the Swan Hotel in Downtown Lebanon, which became the George Washington Tavern.

Read More: This Presidents’ Day, remembering Lebanon’s links to our country’s highest elected office

The elm is in the grassy island of Chestnut St. known as Park Place – after the Monopoly game – when it was built, the release said. The Good Samaritan Street Fair used to be held there.

Read More: How the Street Fair became a Lebanon tradition, and how its successor event is carrying the spirit forward

A comparison of the elm tree’s size to the surrounding buildings. (Lexi Gonzalez)
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And the tree is still hard to miss – a 60-inch diameter trunk, standing approximately 70 feet tall by 80 feet wide. In August 2018, a large branch from the elm, which is on the 500 block of Chestnut St., broke off and damaged two homes and a van.

Read More: Branch from centuries-old elm tree falls in Lebanon City

A single, large American elm on a home’s south side can intercept 2,384 gallons of stormwater, conserve 107 kilowatt-hours of energy, and sequester 518 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.

“The range of the iconic American elm … spans across the eastern United States, from Texas to Florida, Maine to North Dakota, and in parts of seven Canadian provinces,” according to the Northern Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service.

New, hybridized elms are being developed. But mature American elms like the one in Lebanon, Schach said, are very special.


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