Elms of Castine, Maine

An ancient elm stands almost as tall as the steeple on Trinitarian Congregational Parish of Castine.
One of Castine's elms stands at the base of Main Street at the entrance to the harbor.

One of Castine’s elms stands at the base of Main Street at the entrance to the harbor.

Considered almost sacred in Castine, Maine, are the stately elms hovering over private residences, shops, and the charming streets of this tucked-away town.  Even the free walking tour map entitled “Under The Elms and By The Sea” focuses on two aspects of Castine that residents (permanent and sometime) and visitors look for year after year.

Leaves turn golden on one of the largest elm trees in Castine.

Leaves turn golden on one of the largest elm trees in Castine.

In the 1930s, Dutch elm disease wiped out many of America’s elms (all told over 77 million of them), but not so much in Castine where a vaccine created in the 70s by Dr. Richard Campana of the University of Maine began systematically identifying, studying, and treating elms.

An ancient elm stands almost as tall as the steeple on Trinitarian Congregational Parish of Castine.

An ancient elm stands almost as tall as the steeple on Trinitarian Congregational Parish of Castine.

With the help of the Castine Garden Club who took on the task of measuring the 100 or so remaining elms, the town fathers developed the Elm Tree Ordinance to monitor and protect these glorious trees. For more oversight, a five-member Tree Committee with a Tree Warden and a Consulting Arborist visit each numbered elm and add data to the statistics on each of the trees that “belong to the city,” according to a resident we talked to. The ordinance states: “The Town shall be responsible for the treatment or removal and disposal of any diseased or damaged elm tree within the public area.”

Trees showing signs of ailment are treated, and, in a worse-case scenario, taken down.  But not without weeping and wailing from the residents.  Mention the Post Office elm, and you’re sure to see sad faces.  Damage, not disease, prompted the removal of the beloved tree after a devastating storm hit Castine in April 2011.

A resident leaves yard raking to explain the care the town of Castine bestows on its treasured elms.

A resident leaves yard raking to explain the care the town of Castine bestows on its treasured elms.

A wealth of elm trees in this yard!

A wealth of elm trees in this yard!

Elms in Castine tower over whatever stands beside them — historic white homes, stately steepled churches, even the cadets of Maine Maritime Academy as they walk down to the harbor for training on board their sailing vessel Bowdoin.

So come to Castine to see the elms.  Be ready to look up.  Be ready to be impressed.  Because elms are honored as an integral part of the history and traditions of Castine.

Treasured by all -- the elegant Castine elms.

Treasured by all — the elegant Castine elms.

For more stories on Castine and other towns in Maine, check out our Travel Series:  Autumn Down East. 

For more information and posts on Castine, check these out.

“Castine elm trees focus of tour,” Castine Patriot, June 23, 2011

Aimee Tucker, “Castine Maine/A Historic Midcoast Maine Tour,” New England Today.

Castine Elm Tree Ordinance, April 2009

10 thoughts on “Elms of Castine, Maine

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      These specimens are truly remarkable. They tower over everything, and their presence is highly valued. I’m not sure I’ve ever known a town that works so hard collectively on preservation as this one does. Thanks for taking a look.

  1. dawnkinster

    When I was a kid, maybe 50 years ago (maybe more now) we had a huge elm tree in our back yard. Dutch elm disease was going strong and there were all sorts of things that were being tried. I remember people coming to the house and putting something in the ground, and another time spraying the tree. We moved right after that but somehow I always knew that tree didn’t survive. Looking back, it’s amazing that my folks paid for those treatments to save that tree. We didn’t have much money in those days, but my mom sure loved her trees.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Most people do love trees, especially the stately ones that have endured harsh Maine weathers and the threat, at least, of disease. It’s interesting that you shared your mother’s love for these creations . . . my mom felt the same way. Thanks for taking a look.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      It really is encouraging to see what has transpired in Castine. Homeowners have bought in to the idea that the trees belong to the city, and they have to accept any judgement by the city as to the fate of something in their own yard. But it’s working. Most elms standing seem healthy with years to go. Thanks for taking a look.

  2. Curt Mekemson

    Dutch Elm disease was a tragedy form my perspective, Rusha. So many beautiful trees destroyed. The elms remind me of the beautiful Valley Oaks that grace the Central Valley of California. Peggy’s sister, Jane, has been instrumental in protecting them and has one growing in her front yard. –Curt

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Peggy’s sister Jane would love the Castine initiative — to monitor and treat all the elms in town so that they can preserve as many as possible. It seems to be working; however, while we were there, one had to be cut down. Definitely a topic of conversation among the morning breakfast folks we joined each day after watching the sun rise.

      1. Curt Mekemson

        I can believe quite a conversation was held, Rusha, when each and every tree is precious! The Sacramento Tree Foundation, of which Jane is a founding member, works hard to plant trees throughout the City and County, emphasizing native species. There is an oak grove along the American River that is named after Jane’s family. –Curt

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