Friday, July 7, 2017

Sycamore at Lucasville's Dugan's Grove: A Tree of Great Distinction

Dugan's Grove (Now Scioto County Fairgrounds
by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

We are graced by trees. When settlers first came to the Ohio country, the state was predominantly forested. Some have estimated the forest cover was as much as 95 percent. With the dawn of the 19th century, settlement and westward expansion spawned almost 100 years of forest removal. Lands that nurtured excellent tree growth also supported bountiful crop production. Thus started massive forest clearing that continued through the twilight of the century. The Ohio Division of Foresty says that by the first decade of the 1900s, forest cover had dropped to 10 percent of the state.

However, today, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates that 31 percent of Ohio is forested with over 100 different hardwood tree species and over 25 different soft wood species.

And, how about big trees? It may surprise you that now Ohio has 12 national champion Big Trees growing in its soil. Allow me to concentrate on sycamores and relate the story of one huge tree that was a natural wonder in our own Lucasville, Ohio. Trees, trees, trees … how firm, solid, and steadfast are these lovely natural creations. No wonder trees make great history.

Platanus occidentalis – also known as American sycamore, American planetree, occidental plane, and buttonwood (for its characteristic round fruit) – is one of the species of Platanus genus native to North America.

The name is derived from the Greek word πλάτανος (platanos), meaning “flat,” and the Latin word occidentalis meaning "of the west.” And sycamore is derived from the ancient Greek συκόμορος (sūkomoros) meaning "fig-mulberry.”

Paleobotanists have dated sycamore trees to be over 100 million years old and some sycamore trees can live for 500-600 years.

The largest of the species of sycamores has been measured to 51 m (167 ft), and nearly 4 m (13 ft) in diameter. Larger specimens were recorded in historical times. In 1744, a Shenandoah Valley settler named Joseph Hampton and two sons lived for most of the year in a hollow sycamore in what is now Clarke County, Virginia. And, in 1770, at Point Pleasant, Virginia (now in West Virginia) near the junction of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, George Washington recorded in his journal a sycamore measuring 13.67 m (44 ft 10 in) in circumference at 91 cm (3 ft) from the ground.

Native Americans valued the sycamore and many tribes had a multitude of uses for it. Many medicines were made from the bark and leaves and canoes were hollowed out from the long straight trunks. The Cherokee believed that fire first came to Earth as lightning striking a sycamore tree. From treatments for cuts and wounds, to infant rash the sycamore was used in many ways by Native Americans. They even made a slightly sweet drink from its sap although the sugar maple was more desirable for this purpose.

European settlers also had many uses for the sycamore tree. It grew quickly and had a good, strong wood. From chopping blocks, wagon wheels, crates and boxes, to paper pulp, the sycamore quickly became a multi-purpose tree. It was one of the first trees intentionally planted for commercial harvest.

Some Famous Sycamores

A giant sycamore tree once stood several miles west of Kokomo, Indiana. It was centuries old -- no one knew how many -- when it was felled by a storm, leaving a hollow stump over 57 feet around, 18 feet wide, and 12 feet high.

Jacob Bergman, commissioner of Kokomo's city park, liked the stump. He thought it would make a worthy attraction for Kokomo's park, "an artifact of Kokomo's pioneer days" he said at the time. Jacob paid a guy with a big tractor $300 to haul the stump to the park. The trek began and ended on a Sunday morning, June 18, 1916.

Instead, the stump sat around outdoors for years, slowly assaulted by park visitors who carved their names into it. In 1938 Kokomo had the National Youth Administration built an open air shelter around the stump, and in 1989 it was glassed into an all-weather pavilion. It still can be seen and is billed as “the World's Largest Sycamore Stump.”

The Lafayette Sycamore tree is a very fabled tree. This stunning American sycamore sits next to Lafayette’s Quarters (Gideon Gilpin’s House), on what is now the Brandywine Battlefield in Chaddsford, Pennsylvania. It’s approximately 391 years old as of 2003, which means it witnessed the Revolutionary War battle that took place on its grounds, being well over 150 years old at the time. Of course, Lafayette was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutiony war. He was a close friend of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson. 

Lafayette Sycamore

Legend says that the Marquis de Lafayette rested against this tree while his wounded leg was being tended to during the Battle of Brandywine in 1777. The diameter of this gigantic tree’s trunk is 9 feet. The Lafayette Sycamore is believed to be 275-325 years old, and its age means that it would have been part of the winter encampment of 1777-1778. It was said Lafayette revisited the tree later in life.

On May 17th, 1792, a sycamore tree played a role in another historical event – the founding of the New York Stock Exchange. A group of twenty-four gentlemen gathered under a buttonwood tree at 68 Wall Street on that day and negotiated the terms of the new speculative market. The document that they all signed is known as the Buttonwood Agreement.

Another sycamore witnessed one of the key events in the Civil War. A sapling of a sycamore tree grew next to Burnside Bridge which spanned Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on the morning of September 17,1862, when 12,000 Union men tried to cross it. For three and one half hours, a scant 450 Georgia sharpshooters positioned on a bluff opposite the creek repelled the repeated Union charges.

Over 22,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed that day at Burnside Bridge and elsewhere at the Battle of Antietam. Today the fully grown Sycamore tree is called the Burnside Sycamore or the Witness Sycamore in honor of Burnside Bridge. The Burnside Sycamore is a Civil War monument unlike any other at Antietam because it survived the brutal battle and is still alive and standing. Park Rangers attest, “Today the mighty tree provides great refuge from the summer heat with a chilling effect like none other.”

Witness Sycamore

A much more recent event accounts a tale of a New York City sycamore. When the World Trade Center towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, debris toppled a giant sycamore tree that had grown in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Chapel at Broadway and Fulton Streets for almost 100 years. Rescue workers discovered the uprooted tree lying on a narrow path in the churchyard. The way it fell protected the historic tombstones and no wreckage touched the chapel.

The Lucasville Sycamore (Sycamore of Fifteen Horse)

From the annals of Lucasville history comes the story of “the greatest tree ever seen by white men in Ohio,” a sycamore which stood in what is now Valley Township, Scioto County, in the rich bottom lands of the Scioto River. The tree reportedly stood on the south side bank of Millar's (Millers?) Run Creek and immediately on the east side of Norfolk & Western Railroad at the point where it crosses the run.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the celebrated tree was said to be a sycamore of probably two hundred years growth. When first discovered by the white settlers, this tree was in a state of decay, with an immense cavity in the trunk extending from the trunk (or root) up into the diverging forks. The opening into the cavity within the trunk was ten feet wide at the bottom, nine and a half feet high, and the hollow was about fourteen feet in diameter.

The circumference of the trunk was about 63 feet at the base (also reported to be 21 feet in diameter), and at five feet from the earth, it was 42 feet in girth. The Lucasville sycamore forked about eight feet from the ground and tapered abruptly upward. This tree certainly challenged claims of the biggest sycamore in our fair county.

The gigantic tree stood on the farm originally owned by Abraham Miller and later owned by Thomas Dugan at a point about 200 yards above what became known as Dugan's Grove. Many stories were written about the big tree.

It is said the size of the great sycamore was the eventual cause of its destruction. Read on and judge for yourself.
The Lucasville sycamore caused quite a stir. It became a point of interest in the frontier of Ohio. In 1810 the Cincinnati Almanac described the tree as “one of the natural wonders of Ohio.” It seems the tree became best known for its unusual hollow construction.

According to what seems reliable testimony from the Ohio Gazetter, on June 5, 1808, a party of fourteen persons, each on horseback, came visiting the tree, all attempting to enter the hollow trunk. One after another, they rode into the hollow of this sycamore until it came for the turn of the fourteenth. It is said that “he could have found room, but his horse being a little capricious, could not be induced to enter.” Another account puts the number of people in the hollow at 15, and claims the tree became known as the"Sycamore of Fifteen Horses.”

The party included E.W. Hall and his wife, William Trimmer and his wife, John Hayes and his wife, William Headley, Elizabeth Miller, and Cornelius Millar. James Lane remained outside the tree with his skittish horse. The rest of the party were children who came with their parents.

It is claimed that the giant buttonwood was kept uninjured as a great curiosity until the farm on which it stood was used as a stock farm by Dugan. He purchased some “fine-blooded stock including some fancy bulls for improving the breed.” His stock soon began using the large sycamore for shelter during inclement weather.

The account which has been preserved about the fate of this enormous tree is very unusual. The bulls reportedly developed “belligerent dispositions,” and two of them fought inside its trunk. In that small space, the victor was able to prevent the escape of his rival, and the weaker was “driven to the walls of the tree and gored to death.

This affair (plus “the trouble and the fact that stock raising was not very profitable) evidently convinced Dugan that the largest tree in the Ohio was a menace to his stock, and he “ordered the tree cut down.” He then turned to hog raising. Dugan had allowed the stump of the giant sycamore to stand, and he conveniently employed it as a pig pen since he kept the hogs in the same field.

However, the animals were attacked by cholera, and a large number of the hogs succumbed to the disease, The owner reasoned that their habit of lying inside the hollow stump was bad for their health, and so he had the stump removed. It may well be doubted whether any other immense tree was ever destroyed because of a fight between two bulls.
Chester Chidester. The Marion Daily Star. May 20, 1914.
J.H. Galbraith. “Fifteen Horsemen Sycamore.” The Mansfield News-Journal, Mansfield, Ohio. April 02, 1934.
Samuel Kercheval. (1833). A History of the Valley of Virginia. 1833.
Lucasville Ohio: Sesquicentennial 1819-1969. Lucasville Area Historical Society. 1969.
Dale Luthringer (2007-03-22). “Histoical Sycamore Dimensions.” Newsgroup: Native Tree Scoiety Eastern Native Tree Society. March 22, 2007.
Donald Culross Peattie. A Natural History of North American Trees. Harcourt. 2007.
Melody Rose. “Fate of a Big Ohio Tree.” The Bismark Daily Tribune. Bismark, N.D. September 06, 1907.

Trees Of North America: Eastern Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis.”
World's Largest Sycamore Stump.” Roadside America.

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