Vintage Views: The Great Memorial Tree Planting Day

By JAMES SPAIN

For the Monitor

Published: 09-23-2023 12:00 PM

The citizens of Concord have always held the sanctity of trees very close to their hearts. When the first unpaved streets were established, there was much discourse to travel the roads with the blaring sun of summer, frozen earth so bumpy to each horse drawn wagon and sleigh in winter, and deep mud with the spring thaw. The people living in Concord during the colonial period simply avoided the roads when they could, until thoughts drifted down to the shores of the Merrimack River.

It was on the interval that the original settlers found an abundance of natural elm trees lining the flowing water. Many were small saplings and easily uprooted for transport to a new location. Eventually our ancestors made a habit of transplanting the American Elm saplings with each spare moment. Some very prominent people committed much time to this task while encouraging the other people in town to do the same.

As the months turned to years and the years to decades, the beautiful American Elm populated every street in Concord. Each elm was certainly beautiful, but there were reasons deeper than the pure beauty of our ancestor’s plantings… the elm trees provided shade in summer and protection from the north winds that visited each winter. The trees controlled erosion and yes, they were beautiful. As the 1700’s ended and the 1800’s were well established, the citizens of Concord continued to plant elm trees and started adding other species too. By the end of the 1800’s there were hundreds of trees lining Main Street in Concord, the plantings starting at the furthest southern point and continuing along both sides of Main Street to the extreme north end. Yes, the plantings were desirable, plentiful, practical and certainly beautiful.

As the next century approached there continued to be interest in planting trees. Our ancestors clearly understood the reasoning behind this process, it was just something that people living in Concord did from spring to fall. With the Great War ended and many people mourning the loss of their beloved soldiers and nurses overseas, the citizens of Concord thought that the process of planting trees should have more meaning and the thought process began following this sad chapter in the lives of all Americans.

It was on April 24th, 1924 that the concept of honoring the war dead took on a new life. The citizens of Concord felt that each tree planted should honor a fallen hero or veterans of prior years. The entire nation turned towards Concord, New Hampshire on this day to report the news of this very first event in the United States. The concept gave many sad families an opportunity to honor their loved ones while providing some time of closure to others. There were many newspaper reporters, photographers and even a moving picture cameraman representing the national media. Yes, on this early spring morning all eyes were indeed on the capital of New Hampshire, all eyes were on Concord.

The origin of this grand event was developed as the result of the Concord Post of the American Legion. This day would be set aside for planting trees as a memorial of the city’s soldier dead.

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It was very early in the morning that the Legionnaires gathered in Concord, they gathered as an organization but were soon joined by many additional volunteers. The veterans no longer shouldered their rifles in battle, they now shouldered their shovels to plant a tree in honor. Hundreds marched down Main Street in Concord, they marched for a purpose, they marched for those lost in battle. The parade continued until the people reached the gateway to Concord on the south border at the town of Bow. The Governor of New Hampshire joined the volunteers. Picking up a shovel, he personally dug the first hole, planted the very first tree.

The morning grew bright as high noon visited; the Ladies Auxiliary were ready for the tired laborers. They provided cool refreshments and a bountiful lunch for the many men and women digging and planting from the southern Concord border north into the city. There were many people, certainly many veterans, laborers, professional men, clergymen, the Mayor and various city officials joining the Governor as the first hole was dug and the first sapling planted.

As the year 1924 faded into the past, family members visited the trees planted in honor of those they loved. They nurtured their growth and understood the meaning. The trees flourished for years until they encountered natures worst enemies. The hurricane of 1938 visited New England and took many of these memorial trees away from us. The Dutch Elm disease also ravaged many of these mature trees. After these two natural disasters most of the beautiful memorial trees as well as the many elm trees planted by our very earliest Concord residents ceased to exist.

The shade cast by these bygone trees may long be gone. The memories may now be as distant as a leaf falling from a grand tree to the ground. Perhaps some of these memorial trees do survive and flourish to this very day…. casting a lost memory across the shaded ground beneath, a memory of a soldier that once lived and loved. A soldier that walked the streets of Concord, boarded the train at the depot and departed for the Great War, but never returned home.

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