New Haven, Connecticut
Fall 1759

The last remnants of an autumn thunderstorm linger and sunrise lights the clouds of a gray dawn marching off toward the distant sound of war.

"Wait Old Sachem !"

"Come along Jemmy, the morning is wasting and we've trees to plant." James Hillhouse stood patiently as his nephew caught up with him. He sat a water bucket for his horse and carefully unloaded a tender sapling from the wagon.

"Why aren't we planting oak trees today Sachem ? I like the oak with its leafy scallops and mighty trunk !"

"Ya ! I agree with you most heartily. The oak is a fine tree sacred to the Scotland of our ancestors. May I be the first to introduce you to this fine young species ? Its lacy branches afford a hopeful promise of this colony's bright future, a fitting symbol of this beautiful land of America.

Look here, he pointed reverently, its leaf reveals a tiny miniature of the grand arches of gothic cathedrals. In your lifetime my little one, this handsome branch will tower above us to spread its green canopy of shade for your afternoon walk from school. "  

"Oh, such a handsome cluster of leaves !"

They planted through the cool morning sun, carefully fashioning a deep round hole in the course Connecticut soil, throwing in manure to feed the young roots, pouring buckets of water over to sink into the depths and carefully spreading the young roots toward the four winds just before they covered them with a blanket of soil.

A so it comes and goes in a blink of the minds eye, a glimpse of a day in the childhood of one of America's Founding fFathers.

Long before Johnny Appleseed set foot in Ohio, New Haven, Connecticut had James Hillhouse whose extensive elm-planting campaign transformed the city into one of the most celebrated in 19th-century America.

American elms had been planted in the city as early as 1685, but it was in 1759 that Hillhouse planted the rows of trees around the market square. The trees grew rapidly and may even have helped save the town during the Revolutionary War.

According to legend, General George Garth, commander of the British forces invading New Haven, refrained from razing the town in July 1779 because he was so moved by its sylvan beauty. 'It is too pretty to burn,' he reportedly muttered, and led his men away.

from the book

Republic of Shade:
New England and the American Elm

by Thomas Campanella


Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, Connecticut
19th century






The great American Elms of New Haven fell to the Dutch Elm disease that swept the nation starting as early as the 1880s, but trees on Hillhouse Avenue have been replaced to preserve its leafy repose.

Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, Connecticut
Fall 2005
Photo credit - Jan Eloise Morris