August 23, 2010

Rise, Fall, and Rise of New Haven’s Elms

Temple Street, New Haven.  Source: NYPL Digital Gallery
     New Haven was one of the first towns in the American colonies to civilize Ulmus americana.  The first native elm was planted inside the city limits in 1685, and many more were added over the years, especially during the "Great Planting" of 1786-1800.  Dickens thought the trees brought about "a kind of compromise between town and country; as if each had met the other half-way, and shaken hands upon it; which is at once novel and pleasant." An Ohio minister visiting New Haven said simply, "I call it New Haven."
     That urban Eden did not last.  In the twentieth century New Haven's elms suffered a series of natural and manmade assaults that brought them down by the thousands.
-- excerpted from "The Elm City, then and now: Photos of the rise, fall, and rise of New Haven's signature tree" by Bruce Fellman in the Yale Alumni Magazine, September/October 2006.  (The issue is archived here but the article cannot be accessed on the magazine's website.)

The "natural and manmade assault" include two elm-leaf beetle infestation, infrastructure upgrades, and two waves of Dutch elm disease.  For the seminal history of the American elm in New England, read Thomas J. Campanella's Republic of Shade: New England and the American Elm (2003).  For a broader history of city trees both spatially and temporally, read Henry W. Lawrence's City Trees: A Historical Geography from the Renaissance through the Nineteenth Century (2006).

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