The Trees of Evanston
J. Seymour Currey

The land now occupied by the city of Evanston was originally covered by a forest consisting mainly of oak trees, though there were certain tracts of low land lying between the ridges and sandy spaces where no trees grew. When Evanston passed from the condition of an open country district and was organized as a village in 1854, almost the first step taken in improvement was a provision for lines of shade trees along the streets that as yet existed only on paper. It was well said by the superintendent of parks in Boston in a public address some years ago, that " the planting of street trees should be classed as one of the most important of civic duties," and he might have added "one of the first." In this respect the wisdom of our early citizens was well exemplified.

It was realized by the residents that the forest trees would gradually disappear to a large extent in the process of opening streets and clearing the ground for buildings, and that in any event the old trees were not desirable as shade trees and were not in positions to conform to the plans of regularity required. The Northwestern University had acquired a tract of 380 acres of land the previous year (1853), and had laid out the new village upon this tract on the plan with which we are all familiar. The predominant influence in public affairs at that time was centered in the board of trustees of the University and the work of improvemennt was largely in their hands.

An extensive tract of woodland, consisting mostly of elms and maples, was situated about two miles west of the village, some vestiges of which still remain are known by the old name of "The Big Woods." These "Big Woods" are now to be purchased by the Forest Preserve Commissioners and will thus be kept for us and our children forever. Large numbers of saplings were taken up in these woods and transplanted along the borders of streets looking very weak and insignificant among the older forest trees promiscuously scattered about. This work went on for years under direction largely of Dr. Philo Judson, the energetic business agent of the University. Just as foreseen, nearly all the old trees have passed away and the elm and maple saplings have grown to be splendid avenues of shade trees, which give to Evanston of the present day the well deserved distinction of being the best shaded city in the West.

The double rows of "immemorial elms" standing along the borders of Judson and Forest avenues are specimens of what has been accomplished by this early planting, their towering branches arching over the streets suggesting the effects produced by the pointed arches in old Gothic cathedrals of Europe. There are many miles of streets in Evanston along the borders of which stand serried rows of shade trees, some of them dating back more than sixty years. Evanston has indeed been fortunate in possessing a class of citizens who had a vision of the future in tree culture and who clearly saw that many years were required before trees could attain to their proper development. Tree planters do not see the full fruition of their work in their own lifetime as a rule. Now when these men have all passed away we of the present day rejoice in the complete results of their labors.

In view of the immense benefits conferred on the people of this generation through the far-sighted wisdom of the men of the past, we should regard our trees as a priceless heritage, and their conservation as of the utmost importance. If one thing above all others symbolizes the domestic charm of Evanston it is the trees which are its outstanding natural feature.

Very little credit is due to us of the present generation; we reap whereof we have not sown. Not only this, but we are squandering our patrimony. Whenever a noble tree falls away, it leaves an ugly gap in an otherwise fine row, and unless some public spirited citizen replaces this tree, seldom is anything done.


Plan of Evanston, Evanston Small Parks and Playgrounds Association, 1917