A Good Many Chestnut Trees About

1976_68_0

Edwin Whitefield, Old Tavern and Store, Bolton. Drawing, ca. 1880. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1976.68.0

Before the chestnut flight devastated the forests in the early 1900s, American chestnut trees were a prominent feature in the Connecticut landscape. Chestnut trees grew tall and straight and the wood was used in the construction of barns and houses and the making of furniture, telephone poles, and railroad ties. The nuts were used as food by Native Americans and early settlers. When the artist Edwin Whitefield made his drawing of an old tavern and store in Bolton about 1880, he noted that there were “a good many chestnut trees about.” Chestnut trees are frequently noted in John Warner Barber’s drawings of Connecticut towns, dating from the 1830s. If you go to Connecticut History Online and search for “chestnut,” you’ll find lots of pictures of trees–and even more pictures of Chestnut Streets throughout the state, reflecting tree’s former popularity. The fungus that caused the blight was accidentally introduced on imported Japanese chestnut trees in the late 19th century, and within decades, nearly all of Connecticut’s chestnut trees had succumbed to the disease. Today you’ll still find a good many chestnut trees about, though these are usually European or Oriental chestnuts planted in parks and yards. And deep in the forests, the roots of the old American chestnut trees continue to sprout and grow, only to die when they become infected with the fungus, which is still present throughout the state. Efforts to find a disease-resistant strain or hybrid have yielded promising results and perhaps someday this sad story will have a happy ending.

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