The apple tree existed before Lima, standing on the Hog Creek Shawnee reservation just southwest of its principal village, known as Shawneetown.
Planted, so the story goes, by eccentric frontier orchardist Johnny Appleseed, the tree was there when the Shawnee were forced to move to the West in the early 1830s. It continued to survive and produce apples as Shawnee Township was settled and grew up around it. Eventually, Shawnee Elementary School was built beside it, and the old tree became a natural jungle gym for several generations of Shawnee pupils, who played in its gnarled branches.
In January 1957, the American Forestry Association declared the tree, which measured 14 feet, seven inches in circumference and at one time stood 30 feet high, the largest of its kind in the United States. A fence was built around it to protect it from climbing children.
Sixteen years later, in 1973, the weight of wet April snow brought down the old tree, which by then had survived nearly a century and a half of lightning, wind, snow and climbing children.
Other trees, older and larger, though not as famous as the Appleseed tree, have spread their branches over Allen County, the remnants of the forest that covered the area when pioneers arrived in the early 19th century.
Frank A. Burkhardt, a former Lima mayor and avid student of local history, called them “wilderness sentinels” in a November 1944 address before the Allen County Historical Society.
Burkhardt told the meeting that most of the area’s “magnificent walnut trees” became musket stocks during the Civil War while “the tallest, straightest and toughest of trees were hewn into 60-foot ship timbers and were shipped to their destinations on the Miami and Erie Canal.” Later, “the oil drillers of Allen County demanded some of the finest timbers for their main sills and walking beams,” he added.
“Princely fortunes were created from the forests of northwestern Ohio. Heads of the timber products industry were located in Lima, Leipsic, Van Wert and Paulding where hundreds of thousands of tool handles were turned out,” Burkhardt told the group.
Many trees also became firewood for the pioneers.
“It was said that a long straight row of firewood standing in the yard was like money in the bank for area pioneers. For those folks, the woodpile was the only way to stay warm during a cold northwest Ohio winter,” The Lima News wrote in January 2005.
Whatever the reason for felling the trees, Burkhardt told the historical society meeting in 1944, “Very few of these fine old trees remain. Just a few years ago a magnificent elm was destroyed at the southeast corner of Metcalf and Spring streets to make way for a service station.”
Another elm, which Burkhardt declared was “perhaps the most picturesque tree in Lima,” stood behind the West Ohio Gas Company building at 319 W. Market St.
“Although this artistic tree is perhaps only a century old,” Burkhardt said, “its limbs form an umbrella to a wide scope of ground, and one is led to wonder how it will look if properly nurtured for another hundred years.”
Most of the magnificent elms, however, were doomed with the appearance of Dutch Elm disease in the early 1930s. In April 1959, The Lima News wrote of a perhaps 150-year-old elm which spread over the yard of Bluffton’s downtown Presbyterian church. But, the newspaper cautioned, “with the threat of Dutch Elm disease taking a large share of the trees in Bluffton, the question of how long this sturdy tree can withstand this threat becomes dominant.”
In his 1944 address, Burkhardt also recalled a tree that stood in the 700 block of Brice Avenue, “the largest tree in the vicinity,” which could be seen from the top floor of St. Rita’s, and a burr oak tree on the southwest corner of High and Charles streets that “may be the largest oak and perhaps the oldest tree in Lima.”
In the 700 block of West North Street, he told the group, were “three trees which stood in the time of the Revolutionary War. This trio stands on the highest ground in Lima, and their leafy boughs may be seen from downtown office buildings.”
Another huge tree, which Burkhardt said was “perhaps the largest tree in Allen County,” stood on a fruit farm southeast of Westminster in Auglaize Township and measured “exactly 25 feet in circumference.” The tree’s trunk, he added, is “forked near the ground, and evidently some two centuries ago two separate trees were joined and continued to grow as one tree.”
In the early 1950s, a man hunting southeast of Fort Amanda Road near the Ottawa River came across a sycamore tree which dwarfed them all and was likely older to boot.
“It stands about 75 feet, although it probably was once 100 feet tall,” The Lima News wrote in October 1955. “Lightning has broken off a top section. Experts estimate the tree is about 300 years old.”
In 1969, the tree was on the property of the Vistron Corp. chemical plant at Adgate and Fort Amanda roads in Shawnee Township. In 1969, Vistron employees launched an effort to save the tree from development in the area. It was still standing in May 1986, leading the company magazine to write, “The kings, queens and famous artisans and scientists of Europe lived and died, but the tree kept growing. The struggles of the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War all whispered through its boughs.”
More recently, in 2017, Lima’s Urban Forest Council crowned three Champion Trees of Lima, two of which were growing before the American Revolution. In Faurot Park, a white oak was recognized for its age and size. This tree, according to the council website, could have started growing in 1769. A Chinkapin oak in Lincoln Park was recognized for its age, size and unique species. It dates to about 1757.
A sugar maple on the west side of Trinity Wesleyan Church, 414 E. Market St., was recognized for its age. It is thought the tree was growing in 1798.
Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected]