This tree sits near the old Grant Noll farmhouse and is probably between 300-370 years old (arborists estimated “over 250 years old” in 1900). In 1981, Halfred Wertz and Joy Calendar opined that “a more pathetic yet heroic sight would be hard to find in the world of trees” (Penn’s Woods 1682-1982: The Oldest Trees in Pennsylvania…). This tree is in fact a Penn Charter Tree, i.e., a tree in Pennsylvania that has been living since William Penn first visited the state almost 340 years ago (very few Penn Trees are still alive).
In its heyday (1920), this tree was declared Pennsylvania’s “most massive tree”, but age and a lightning strike in 1957 have taken their toll. Still, the tree in 2014 had a trunk circumference of 300 inches, a height of 69.5 feet, and a spread of 117 feet (pabigtrees.com). Two nearby roads (Plane Tree Drive and Old Tree Drive), as well as the surrounding industrial park (Old Sycamore Industrial Park), are this tree’s namesakes.
This is the second largest sycamore in Lancaster County and ranks 25th in Pennsylvania (a tree in Manheim is the county’s largest and ranks 6th statewide (pabigtrees.com). Of course, if the Grant Noll Sycamore’s trunk was whole, its CBH (and thus overall size) would be even greater. And naturally there was a time when this tree grew upright (it was then 105 feet tall).
A poem by W.S. Merwin (“Elegy for a Walnut Tree”) reads in part: Old friend, now there is no one alive who remembers when you were young. So true! On the other hand, we can see from photos of 90-100 years ago that Old Sycamore has had its massive, low horizontal limb for a long, long time. [Last photos are from 1923 (left),1933 (right), and undated (middle). From pabigtrees.com].
Corinne Smith visited Old Sycamore as a Girl Scout in the late 1960s when the tree was surrounded by cornfields, and then again 50 years later after the fields had been replaced by a four-lane highway, businesses and eateries. “We can be proud of the tree’s history and its stamina,” she said, “and we can admire it for as long as it is able to live with us.” [thoreaufarm.org, Dec. 5, 2014]