Tallman House Tree Believed To Be Alive Since Lincoln Visit Loses Some Limbs | Jefferson County Area
JANESVILLE – One of the largest, oldest, and arguably most historic oak trees in Janesville is losing limbs, and the Rock County Historical Society is trying to figure out why and how to save the tree.
Officials said that during a windless and calm night on Saturday, the giant bur oak on the northwest side of the historic society’s Lincoln-Tallman Restoration grounds lost a huge body of limbs. They broke loose and fell to the ground.
The oak tree, known locally as the “witness tree,” has stood on the property of Tallman House since at least the 1850s. The tree is believed to have lived when former President Abraham Lincoln visited the Tallman House in October 1859 .
The oak, which stands nearly 100 feet tall and has a trunk big enough that two men cannot reach it all around its circumference, is possibly the oldest tree on the Tallman campus. Over the course of its long life, the tree has witnessed the rise of Lincoln, but also countless weddings, high school portrait sessions, ice cream parties, and most recently the Tallman Arts Festival. All this and more took place in the shade under the vast expanse of branches of the majestic tree.
The grounds under the tree are now slightly less shaded after the big branch broke on Saturday.
A local arborist walking past the Tallman House on Sunday saw the tree had a huge branch, said Tim Maahs, executive director of the Rock County Historical Society.
The historical society and two private arborists examined the tree on Monday and said the loss of limbs is likely due to a common tree disease called “sudden branch fall syndrome” – a disorder in which healthy tree limbs and alive suddenly break and fall from an otherwise healthy tree to trees. This often happens at night and for no clear reason.
The disorder is considered common in large oaks, although arborists aren’t sure exactly why it happens. Some believe that branch fall syndrome may be linked to trees infected over time with bacteria or fungi.
Maahs said the same tree lost some large healthy branches about three decades ago. Another burgeoning oak nearby has grown stunted and lost limbs similarly over the years.
Maahs said arborists observing old wounds on the trunk suspected the tree could be suffering from branch fall disorder for years.
The oak is believed to have earned its nickname, the witness tree, because Lincoln reportedly sat below and had a picnic in early October 1859 when he visited the Tallman House.
Maahs said it was understood that the tree and other large-fruited oaks on the Tallman property existed at the time of Lincoln’s visit to the Tallman House 162 years ago. But he said the historical society has no documented evidence that Lincoln actually sat under the big tree for dinner when he visited Janesville.
â€œThey didn’t seem to have eaten here. It’s probably one of those stories that kind of developed over time, â€he said. â€œWe have never been able to confirm that this actually happened. “
Maahs said arborists are now working to properly seal the tree’s new wound and protect its old scars from fungi, bacteria and insects that can cause a burn that can threaten these adult oaks.
He said arborists plan to drill holes in the large oak tree that will allow its trunk to drain water from existing cavities left by old wounds. The arborists also plan to reconnect a set of lightning rods that have been anchored to the tree for years to protect it from lightning strikes, Maahs said.
Maahs said the historical society had considered shredding the huge fallen branch, which had arches two or three feet thick. But he said the group instead decided to send the members to a local lumberyard.
Later, Maahs said, the historical society will order artwork from the wood of the tree that could be sold to those looking for a unique piece of Lincoln history.
On Monday, only a few lost leaves from the tree filtered down to the ground, but Maahs pointed out that the large oak has several branches that overlook the Stone House, a pillar on the north side of the Tallman property.
The building is an old stone shotgun house that was built as an annex to an original log house built on Saint-Laurent Avenue. Two women commissioned the house to move to the Tallman property in 1965. The Stone House has remained on the site, its porch facing Mineral Point Avenue, ever since.
Maahs said the historical society plans this fall to fund a $ 100,000 project to rotate the house 180 degrees so that its porch faces the Tallman House. The plan is to rehabilitate the old house into space for weddings and other events.
It would be up to the historical society, Maahs said, to try to maintain a tree that towers over the old stone house and that stood on the same part of the Tallman property for decades before. It is a tree associated with the entire Tallman property. But furthermore, it is known for the events of spring, summer and fall which invariably draw crowds that nestle in the shade of the massive and well-known oak tree.
â€œI still have older people asking, ‘Are you still going to make ice cream under the big oak tree?’ Maahs said. “It’s been years since we hosted the Ice Cream Parlor.”