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.
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.
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.
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.
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