The American Chestnut Tree
I had a fantastic morning before work snowboarding & skiing with local folk hero/historian, Ed King, who has 77 years of life lessons and life long memories & experiences that provide much more insight than a Google search! Ed is a colleague of mine here at Long and Foster who is respected immensely by the people of Garrett County. While on the chairlift the other morning, he shared his memories of the blight that destroyed the queen of timber in the Appalachians, The Chestnut Tree. Our fascinating and unique history here in the United States always revolved around perseverance and ingenuity when faced with disaster, and the chestnut tree has engrained itself in the fables. The chestnut tree has run a full circle of life going from a huge part of the economy, then being wiped out, reclaimed, recycled, reused, and eventually re-established for the future.
The lightweight American chestnut tree was of huge economic importance to the people of Garrett County for many reasons. It was an extremely important component because it could grow to 100’ tall with huge diameters around the base, equating to a large amount of lumber. The tree has a reddish-brown color characteristic that was lightweight, soft, easy to split, very resistant to decay and did not shrink or warp, which made it a goldmine for a developing country.
Unfortunately, a very deadly blight/fungus was introduced in 1904 from the Orient and after 40 years of contamination the Chestnut stands were completely demised throughout Garrett County and the Appalachians. Because of their natural resistance to rot, these dead trees stood for many years as ghosts in the vast forest. The fact that they were very dry was a serious concern for the National Parks, as they were considered fire hazards. Mr. King told me that back then you could go the National Forest and ask for a certain amount of trees and they would give you a paint color to use so you could paint the trees you wanted to cut at a later date. You can imagine that this cheap valuable resource became the go-to wood for locals here at the lake.
When looking for real estate here at the lake, you will often hear of homes where they have reclaimed wormy chestnut and used them in construction details. You probably wonder how the tree got their famous wormy characteristics. After the tree stood year-after-year, the worms started to bore through the lifeless trees so that after harvesting them it would give them the patented black wormy trails through the beautiful red-brown chestnut grain.
The next time you run into a home decked out in wormy chestnut while looking for real estate here at Deep Creek Lake, remember the interesting history associated to this special tree.