Waterford’s great elm tree

No one knows when Waterford’s great elm tree first started. It was long before there was ever a Waterford, which dates back to 1789. From the earliest settlement the tree was referred to as great or large, possibly being at least 50 years old at the time. Over the years, besides being a well-recognized landmark, it was a gathering place for church services, a boundary marker, a pole for hanging telephone lines, a place to hang advertisement signs, and a shade tree for downtown Waterford.

Martin R. Andrews, in the History of Marietta and Washington County, notes of Waterford Township in the 1790’s and early 1800’s: “Churches and religious revivals of the early period were conducted first by Rev. Mr. [Daniel] Story, who held services near the great elm tree close by what is now the Baltimore & Ohio station.” (p. 327)

Downtown Waterford was built on the northern part of a twenty-six acre lot twenty-one, originally donated to Major Dean Tyler. There were a number of elm trees mentioned as boundary markers in the deeds for lot twenty-one and nearby tracts-one 20 inches in diameter, one 30 inches in diameter on the bank of Wolf Creek, and the great elm, which out grew all the rest. The 1980 Washington County History (p. 39) says the great elm was “The largest tree in Washington County-35 feet around and branches spreading over 100 feet.”

On April 23, 1818, Ichabod Nye sold Stiles R. Fox one acre and another small tract in Waterford. The small tract was described as all the land “lying south of a large elm tree standing in the roade [sic] leading from the Muskingum river to Woolf kreek [sic].” (Vol. 18, p. 414) This land became known as the Tanyard Lot in downtown Waterford. In 1828 Fox sold the one acre tract to Josiah M. Hart and Stephen Devol, Sr. (Vol. 20, pp. 457-58) George Bowen had his part of twenty-six acre lot twenty-one surveyed on December 8, 1829, and part of the description reads, “3 chains [and] 28 links to a large elm which is corner between Bowen and Hart.” Written on the plat is “Elm,” shown on the “State Road” (now Main Street) as one of the boundary markers. (Surveyors Record, No. 452) The tree is mentioned again on December 24, 1831, when George Bowen sold his four acre store lot (now site of Jukebox Pizza) to Abijah Brooks. The deed reads in part, “running South two degrees ten minutes West five chains & three links to the center of a large Elm tree which is a corner of Tanyard lot owned by Josiah M. Hart . . . ” (Vol. 22, pp. 298-99) In 1834 Barnabas Curtis purchased the tannery and lot from Hart for $600. (Vol. 24, p. 397) Deeds mention the tree again and again-in 1866, 1881, 1892, 1896 and 1911-and naming it as a boundary marker when land was sold.

By 1901 Clarence Comley Smith owned a two-story frame building behind the great elm tree. This was called the Smith Building in a 1902 survey (Surveyors Record, No. 7,637). There were two stores in the building-Smith’s hardware on one side and William H. Pedicord’s dry goods on the other. In 1902 Julius E. Barnett purchased the store for $2,717.24, a considerable amount at the time. (Vol. 146, p. 254) Barnett probably rented the building out, because pictures taken about 1908-10 show B. S. Dillehay Groceries painted on the window (see picture). In 1912 a two-story brick building was built on the adjoining lot. The Waterford Commercial and Saving Bank was on the Mill Street side of this building and the Waterford Post Office was on the store side. The large elm tree was the boundary between the two lots. In 1922 Martha E. Barnett and the heirs of Julius E. Barnett sold the store building to Harvey H. Hill. (Vol. 189, pp. 229-30) Hill sold it to Frederick Ullman, who was listed as a merchant in the 1930 census. Edwin W. Pabst, trustee for the Ullman heirs, sold the store lot to Cody and Josephine Dixon in 1939. (Vol. 218, p. 169) During part of the 1960’s Frank and Mary Brooks Fulmer ran the store called Fulmer’s Market. The road by-passed Waterford in 1963; soon after this the store closed and the building was turned into apartments.

Lindley W. Skipton, Waterford postmaster, is leaning against the tree. The picture, courtesy of Francis Sampson, was taken by Charles M. Martin about 1908. Ray A. Harra (born 1920) visited Waterford during the late 1920’s and does not remember seeing the tree. This old landmark, too old to be safe anymore, was probably taken out during the late 1910’s or early 1920’s.

Phillip L. Crane, a Waterford resident and Marietta history teacher for 32 years, will share stories of historical events that occurred in the Lower Muskingum Valley.