Colebrook's Notable Trees

Legendary frontiersman Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman probably
said it best:  "Nothing gives more yet asks less in return than a tree."

In Colebrook, trees contribute to our town’s rural beauty. They offer places for relaxation and recreation. They provide food and shelter for wildlife. They improve our air and water quality, save on energy costs, and help reduce global warming.

With the goal of bringing attention to the importance of trees to our everyday life, the Colebrook Land Conservancy set out, with your help, to identify our town’s special trees. We thank those who participated in our survey and the State of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection that helped make this project possible with an America the Beautiful grant. Here’s the report of our findings:

Historic Trees

We started with the granddaddy of all Colebrook trees: the “Colonial Pine” in North Colebrook. When named in 1787 for its 13 main branches, representing the 13 original colonies, it was already a mature tree. Today it measures 16 feet 3 inches in circumference, stands 120 feet tall, has a limb spread of 47 feet, and has only seven branches remaining. According to the arborist who recently examined this tree, we can expect to enjoy the Colonial Pine for a few more decades before it succumbs to old age and the natural end of its life span.

The Colonial PineThe Colonial Pine was named in 1787 for its 13 main branches, representing the 13 original American colonies.

Most cities and towns used American elms for their central greens and street trees because of their long straight trunks that widened to leafy canopies on top. Colebrook was typical of these towns. A map of the Town Center drawn by Adeline Wheeler in 1931 shows more than a dozen elms along with several sugar maples. The popularity of the American elm and its relative density led to the quick spread of the “Dutch” elm disease in the early 1930s and the death of most elms. While some of the maples remain, the last surviving American elm in the Center, which was on Schoolhouse Road, was taken down in July 2007. There are at least two young American elms being nurtured in Colebrook, one in the southwest section of town, the other in Robertsville.  

Few trees were as versatile historically as the American chestnut, whose nuts provided food for humans and animals, whose wood was used in construction, and whose bark was used in tanning leather. While chestnuts were a dominant tree in most of the Eastern forest, this was not the case in early Colebrook, according to a 1760 survey. Other early records also tell of going to Sandisfield or Tolland to purchase chestnut shingles and fence posts, although there were several shingle mills right here in Colebrook that produced mostly white pine shingles. 

Sadly, the American chestnut was virtually eradicated by a blight in the early decades of the 20th century. Although you can find sprouts from old trees, they all seem to succumb to disease before they become significant. There is a good example of an Asian-American chestnut on Eno Hill.  

Asian-American ChestnutThe American Chestnut is all but gone from our landscape, but this healthy Asian-American Chestnut stands atop Eno Hill.

An oak in front of the Colebrook Historical Society has grown from a second-generation acorn of the famed Charter Oak in Hartford. 

In the Hale forest are sugar maples and white birch that are of great age. A black walnut on Phelps Road is reputed to be the oldest such tree in Colebrook and boasts a circumference of 9 feet 10 inches, a branch spread of 85 feet and an estimated height of 70 feet.  

Large Trees

Colebrook abounds in large trees. Here are outstanding ones we heard about:

Sugar MapleThis large Sugar Maple is diagonally across from the Rock School on Route 183.   

During the course of this survey, one landowner discovered eight state notable trees on their property. A Fraser fir is the largest in the state and a Chinese hemlock is tied for #1. There is also a Hinoki cypress ranked # 2; a black cherry and a Japanese umbrella pine both are the 6th largest in Connecticut; a Japanese white pine is #7; a weeping hemlock is #9; and a weeping beech comes in at #26. To have one state notable tree is impressive, to have eight is fantastic.

84 Varieties 

A 1760 survey noted 19 varieties of trees in Colebrook. In our 2006 survey, 84 different types were identified. We have trees that provide food: apple, black cherry, black walnut, butternut, crabapple, pear, hickory and pecan. In our woodlands we can find ash, beech, various birches, oaks, hemlocks, ironwood, maples, pines, poplars, black tupelo, spruce and cedars. Along our roadsides we see locusts, catalpas, birches, sassafras, horse chestnuts, sycamore, tamarack, and willow. Our native species are enriched with exotics such as: dawn redwood, dogwoods, Fraser fir, Hinoki cypress, Japanese umbrella pine, Japanese white pine, Swiss stone pine, weeping beech, and weeping Japanese cherry.

Black LocustThis Black Locust in the Town Center is one of 83 different native and non-native trees identified in our 2006 Colebrook survey.

The American elm and American chestnut, once so numerous, are all but gone in Colebrook. At present, several other species of trees are also in jeopardy. The wooly adelgid threatens the survival of our hemlocks. Maples, beeches, ashes and birches also are facing an uncertain future. It is important that we work to assure the health and diversity of our woodlands.



* Indicates a tree not native to the area

Phelps MeadowBeyond Phelps meadow on the east side of Route 183 are stands of White Pine.    





Enjoy the Special Views, Vistas and Groves of Trees in Colebrook

From Smith Hill RoadFrom Smith Hill Road you can see these large trees on the ridge. They survived lumbering because they didn’t contain straight boles and would yield small amounts of usable timber compared to the effort required to harvest them, thus earning the name “wolf trees.”    

Where We Go From Here

In addition to chronicling our notable trees, the Colebrook Land Conservancy hopes this survey serves as a basis for a tree maintenance and replacement program. We need to watch our trees, particularly those under threat, such as hemlocks, beeches, maples, ashes and birches, and be ready to intervene if they show signs of insect infestation or disease. The trees on town property should be regularly examined and provided with optimal conditions for health and growth. It’s an effort requiring the cooperation of the people of Colebrook, but aren’t our trees worth it?

For their help in developing this report, special thanks to Colebrook Land Conservancy Trustees Leelaine Picker and Robert Grigg, who is also Town Historian.

© The Colebrook Land Conservancy, Inc. 2007

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