What is that tree in Central Park?

Bill A. Bertrand/Mercer County Historical Society

As a member of the historical society, I have often been asked about the old and apparently deformed tree next to the Central Park pavilion in Aledo. Dave Lawson, a longtime member of the society was able to provide an answer on the kind of tree it is, and clues as to how the tree came to be there.

Dave has an article copied from the November 1967 issue of Flower and garden which states that the Camperdown Elm was "enjoying a new vogue." The tree in the park is, of course, much older than 50 years and I will provide a theory on how it ace to be there, after a bit of history of this unique type of tree.

The parent of tall Camperdown Elms was discovered, as a freak seedling, by the frester not eh estate of the Earl of Damperdown near Dundee, Scotland circa 1835-1840. The forester dug up and replanted the young tree in the gardens of Camperdown House, where it is still alive today. Flower and Garden described it as "being dwarf form of a forest tree" that "develops massive limbs that ascend, twist, and curve back on themselves to make a branch pattern of the utmost force and intricacy." It is a genetic variation, of Scotch or Wych elm, that cannot reproduced by seeds. All defendants of the original tree are grafts from an existing Camperdown elm onto another Scotch elm, or sometimes onto a Dutch, Siberian, or English elm.

In the latter 1800s this variety of elm became an ornamental in vogue as a curiosity for planting in parks and campuses in Europe and the United states. Perhaps the most famous one was panted in 1872 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York, where it is described by power Marianne Moore as the "crowning curio of the park." The tree in Aledo's Central Park was one of two or more planted in the late 1800s or early 1900s as indicated by photos of the park taken in the museum's collection. I have not found any reference to the actual planting of the trees but Dave Lawson remembers a Camperdown elm growing in Mr. Parkman's yard across the street from Dave's childhood home. Census reports show that Dave's parents at one time lived on South College Avenue and across the avenue and a little ways up the block, lived Mr. Eugene Parkman. According to "Aledo 1900," a special edition of The Times Record, Mr. Parkman was chairman of the Public Grounds Committee of the city council, being credited as "largely responsible for the beautifying of our parks." ZCentral Park was described as "set with many beautiful shade and ornamental trees" under his chairmanship. One might surmise that the trees in Central Park were grafts from Mr. Parkman's tree, or perhaps purchased for the park at the same time Mr. Parkman bought his tree. Whatever the actual story o its being in the park, the sole reaming Camperdown elm has been a unique feature of the parker many decades, and hopefully for many yet to come.