Susquehanna Trail WWI Memorial Sycamores

1938, 1971 & 2014 Aerial Photos of a Five-eighth of a Mile Section of the Susquehanna Trail in York County, PA; section between Glen Rock Road and Church Street (Sources: May 1, 1938 & August 11, 1971 from Penn Pilot Web Site and 2014 Aerial Photo from Bing.com; Arrangement and Annotations by S. H. Smith, 2014)

1938, 1971 & 2014 Aerial Photos of a Five-eighth of a Mile Section of the Susquehanna Trail in York County, PA; section between Glen Rock Road and Church Street (Sources: May 1, 1938 & August 11, 1971 from Penn Pilot Web Site and 2014 Aerial Photo from Bing.com; Arrangement and Annotations by S. H. Smith, 2014)

In the 1920s about 400 sycamore trees were planted along the Susquehanna Trail, from Jacobus southward to the Maryland Line.  Like the 1,500 memorial trees planted as a Road Of Remembrance along the Lincoln Highway in York County, the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores were planted as a living memorial to the county’s World War I veterans.

My “Road Of Remembrance” post in December and later printing in the York Daily Record in January resulted in some nice reader feedback.  The desire to know more about the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores was their top request; which started me on a quest for information on a dedication ceremony, newspaper articles or memorial plaque associated with those sycamores.

I’ve seen references that The War Mothers Club was behind the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores, however additional details at the York County Heritage Trust were elusive.  I’m a fan of using historic aerial photos in my research; therefore I decided to see if I could quantify the initial number and establish the reduction of the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores by sampling a short section of the Old Trail.

Aerial photos of a five-eighth of a mile section of the Susquehanna Trail between Glen Rock Road and Church Street show a reduction in the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores from 65 during 1938, to 46 during 1971, to 31 during 2014.  The systematically planted sycamore trees stand out fairly clearly in the 1938 and 1971 aerial photos.

SycaTrailAAt the present time, there are so many other roadside trees and brush to clearly distinguish the sycamore trees using a 2014 aerial photo.  Instead I drove this short section of the Susquehanna Trail northward towards Loganville, counted the 31 sycamore trees and took a few photos.  The locations where these photos were taken are indicated as A, B, C & D on the 2014 aerial photo.

I decided why not take it a step further and drove the whole Susquehanna Trail from the Maryland Line; counting all the sycamore trees along the way.  I counted the last sycamore just prior to reaching the fire station in Jacobus.  My total was 206, compared to roughly 400 trees originally planted per the 1938 aerial photos.  And that was going to be my YorksPast post until, by chance earlier this week, I made a discovery while researching how Witness Trees are officially recognized (the subject of a future post).

An allée is a walkway or street lined with trees or tall shrubs.  Several tree allées have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  One such tree allée is the Legislative Route 1 Sycamore Allée at Halifax, Dauphin County, PA.  The LR 1 Sycamore Allée was placed on the National Register during 2007, as a significant example of early 20th century publicly funded landscape architecture.

SycaTrailBWhen the LR 1 Sycamore Allée application for the National Register was initiated it was thought a local group planted these sycamore trees as a memorial to WWI veterans.  Documentation concerning involvement of a local group was never found, however instead they found substantial documentation of state involvement with the planting of these trees.  Even so, this governmental program was done to honor the veterans of World War I.

President Warren G. Harding issued a national initiative proclamation to plant tree allées along significant roadways to honor veterans of WWI and to beautify the nation’s major roads.  As complimentary programs to tree planting programs already underway by local groups, state governments around the country responded to Harding’s initiative.

Pennsylvania Governor Sproul directed the Department of Forests and Waters to enter into a cooperative agreement with the Department of Highways to plant trees along important highways.  In the years 1922 to 1924, this agreement resulted in the planting of 11,096 trees.  A vast majority of these trees were sycamores.

SycaTrailCWithin the LR 1 Sycamore Allée application for the National Register, the status of the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores in Southern York County is looked at in extensive detail.  Unfortunately this is done to contrast that the integrity of the LR 1 Sycamore Allée around Halifax has been maintained over the years, whereas the integrity of the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores in York County has not been maintained.

The Road Of Remembrance memorial plaque, near Abbottstown on the Lincoln Highway, contains the wording, “LEST WE FORGET, This highway for twenty five miles eastward across York County was planted with trees by the people of the county and dedicated by them to be forever a ROAD OF REMEMBRANCE in honor of their sons and daughters who served in the World War 1917-1918.”  This Lincoln Highway memorial tree planting has faired far worse than the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores; a very low percentage of the 1,500 Lincoln Highway trees remain.

Why not re-dedicate the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores to all Veterans?

Clearing of brush and other vegetation followed by replanting of about 200 lost trees along the Susquehanna Trail would re-establish the integrity of this living memorial to veterans.  Let’s see, we’d need 20 groups to each take charge of planting 10 new trees and clearing brush from 10 existing trees; to complete the task.  I know it is not that easy; the issue of the utility lines has to be addressed and the highway department will probably require placement of new trees further back from the roadway.

Maybe just start small; by clearing away brush and other vegetation, with a re-dedication of the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores to all veterans.  Are there any organizations out there, looking for a worthwhile project?

Continue reading to see what the LR 1 Sycamore Allée application for the National Register of Historic Places includes about the status of the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores in Southern York County.

 

The LR 1 Sycamore Allée application for the National Register of Historic Places is heavily referenced with 88-footnotes.  The sources range from historical documents from various state agencies and state archives to the utilization of historic aerial photos.  It is clear they did extensive and thorough research.

This is what the LR 1 Sycamore Allée application includes about the status of the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores in Southern York County (as of 2006):

A sycamore allée is located in southern York County.  During the 1920s, the War Mothers Club of York County planted sycamores along the Susquehanna Trail between Jacobus, PA and the Maryland state line, a distance of about 13 miles.  The trees were planted in an effort to memorialize the county residents who died during World War I.

Based on an examination of historic aerial photographs, the allée originally contained 397 sycamores.  It appears that in the northern portion, sycamores were planted on both sides of the Trail; as the Trail moved south, however, the trees were placed either on the east side of the road or the west side.

A recent site visit suggests that the trees were planted about 20 feet apart and within 5-10 feet of the Trail.  Today, the allée is in poor shape.  Except for a very small section, the sycamores are either on the east side of the road or on the west.  In addition, only about half (211) of the trees remain.  Brush and other vegetation have also grown up between many of the trees, obscuring the original design.  Further obscuring the original layout, utility lines have been placed between the trees and the road.

Although these plantings consist of the same species and are planted along sparsely populated sections of rural highway, the similarities end there.  The LR 1 Allée was part of a statewide planting effort, while the Susquehanna Trail was planted by a local, York County group.  Futhermore, it appears that only parts of the Susquehanna Trail were intended as allées, whereas all of the LR 1 plantings were meant to form an allée.

The integrity of the Susquehanna Trail plantings have been greatly diminished over the years by the loss of historical symmetry, the growth of brush and other vegetation, and the placing of utility lines between the plantings and the road.

SycaTrailDIt is nice to see good agreement on the number of original trees, in the same 400 range; also that about one-half of original sycamores remain.

One of the footnotes in the LR 1 Allée application addresses a thought that crossed my mind; is there a chance the Susquehanna Trail Sycamores was a state project?  The LR 1 Allée application notes, “Although this [organized by a local WWI related group] is a common assertion regarding 1920s-era allées, it seems likely in this case; there is no evidence in the archives of the state involvement with plantings along the Susquehanna Trail [in Southern York County].”

And so the search continues for information on a 1920s dedication ceremony, newspaper articles or memorial plaque associated with those sycamores.  If anyone has information, please comment.

Several related posts include:

Reading the HEADLINES; A Quick Index to ALL YorksPast Posts

About Stephen H. Smith

Stephen H. Smith is a design engineer who worked at York International Corp. for 33 years before retiring several years ago to research and write books full time; his second career. The initial emphasis was on family history when he won a national award during 2002 for his first book “Barshingers in America." Positive feedback and that award were influential in his decision to retire early from engineering and start a retirement career.
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