The balmville tree


The Balmville Tree is the oldest Eastern Cottonwood on record in the United States. A core sample taken by a Harvard University scientist in 1953 indicated it startedgrowing in 1699. When it began life, Bach was a 14-year-old captivated by the music of Vivaldi, who was a young man of 24, and Shakespeare had been dead for only 83 years.the balmville tree

The Balmville Tree is thus older than the American Republic. A 19th century fable held that the tree sprang to life from the riding crop of George Washington who made his headquarters in Newburgh 1783-84. But the Balmville Tree began its life 33 years before Washington, and nine years before his mother, Mary Bell Washington.

Situated in a glen at the intersection of what were three old Indian trails, and nurtured by a plentiful supply of water from the hill that rises to the west of it. The Balmville Tree grew quickly and well, achieving in its prime a height of more than 85 feet—and a massive circumference of approximately 25 feet. The core sample indicated that by the time Washington rode by, the Balmville Tree was already huge. During the Revolution, there was a tavern near the Balmville Tree whose patrons regularly gathered under its shade to sip their brews, denounce King George and his taxes, and talk about the course of man.

New York Champion Eastern Cottonwood, Balmville, New York

Eastern Cottonwood (Populous deltoides) is indigenous to North America and grow rapidly for 75 years or so. Most of them die before they reach the century mark. The Balmville Tree was nearing the end of a normal life expectancy in Washington's time.

The Balmville Tree defied all odds by continuing to grow into the 19th century. The people who lived around Newburgh in those days mistakenly thought that it was a Balm of Gilead, an exotic hybrid poplar related to cottonwoods. Hence, it was called the "Balm Tree," and the settlement that grew up around it "Balmville." The hamlet of Balmville began to appear on maps in the late 18th century.

In the latter half of the 20th century, the roadways that meet at the Tree were redirected to avoid sacrificing the tree, but in the process, the base of the Tree was encase by concrete and stone walls. Imprisoned in this ring of asphalt and stone, the Tree began to weaken.
By the 1970s, the Balmville Tree was in serious decline. In 1975, at the urging of the New York State Nature and Historical Preserve Trust, a state law was enacted designating the Balmville Tree as a unique plant.

In 1976, the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) declared the 348-square-foot site a "public historic park"—the smallest state forest in New York. NYSDEC obtained a tree protection and maintenance easement from the City of Newburgh, and DEC regional foresters are responsible to maintain the tree's health by pruning, fertilization and other care.

The trunk was completely hollow, and the main trunk—in danger of collapse after being split by Hurricane Floyd—was removed, reducing the Tree's 110 foot height to only 83. On advice of a private forestry consultant, a few preservation efforts were made: the road pattern was altered and a stone safety wall expanded. Residents raised $18,000 to erect a custom steel mast beside the Tree as a lightning rod and support, and several steel cables were attached to support the large branches of the remaining crown.

Several attempts by universities, institutes and environmental groups to clone the Tree have failed. Cottonwood cuttings are usually easy to root. Then, in 1998, Dick Severo, the Tree's neighbor and passionate guardian, stuck a small branch in his lawn, and the tiny stick took root and began to grow (photo at left). By 2001, it had grown to 18 inches and carried 15 leaves.

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