The George Washington Elm

The Original Scion at Lewis Hall, University of Washington

The George Washington Memorial Elm, circled by a paved path in what is today known as the Section Four of the cemetery, has a unique history. It is the only authenticated descendant from the University of Washington elm that once stood at the entrance to Lewis Hall.

The elm at the University of Washington was an authentic descendent from the famous Washington Elm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, under which it is popularly believed that George Washington stood to accept command of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War. The tree, an American White Elm, became a celebrated attraction, with its own plaque, a fence constructed around it and a road moved in order to help preserve it.

In 1896, a young man by the name of Arthur John Collins graduated from the UW, and immediately entered Harvard University, at Cambridge, as a graduate student in history and political science. There, he passed the Washington Elm every day, and was fascinated by this link with the past. Collins believed that his home state—which had been named for the first President—should have at its university a descendant of the tree so intimately linked with the spirit of American liberty.

A persistent and imaginative fellow, he eventually procured a scion of the noble tree for the campus of his alma mater in the Pacific Northwest. He wrote to Professor Edmund J. Meany in 1902, “I have succeeded in my fifth attempt and now have a true scion of the Washington Elm, which I am sending you this morning by express. I sincerely hope that this tree will reach you safely and will grow for the next 200 years within the sacred precincts of the University of Washington.” Meany, a history professor and “grand old man,” planted the scion near Lewis Hall, and it flourished. The students at the UW affectionately nicknamed this tree “George.”

When the original Washington Elm fell over on October 26, 1923, and the tree was divided into 1,000 pieces and distributed among each of the states and their legislatures. In 1930, Ludwig Metzgar, who was in charge of the university greenhouses, proposed that Seattle show its gratitude by sending a scion back to Cambridge, as a returning grandson of the famous tree. After two years, he was successful in procuring a sprouting of roots from the limb, and a scion was given to Cambridge and planted in Harvard Yard. Another scion was sent to the Daughters of the American Revolution, and it was planted on the Capitol grounds in Washington, D.C.

The elm which stood on the University of Washington campus was struck by lightning on August 12, 1963. This time, a scion secured from Cambridge was sent back to the UW, and planted between Clark Hall and the Communications building on the Common.

The Ulmus americana ‘George Washington’ on the grounds of Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park was recognized by the City of Seattle’s Heritage Tree Program on November 17th 2009 as a Best in Neighborhood Heritage Tree.

2 Responses to The George Washington Elm

  1. Doug Halvorsen says:

    A great story but sad to find out that this scion of the Washington Elm was taken down in October 2016 because a large crack in the middle of the trunk between two branches had caused safety concerns on the UW campus. A blog site gives readers updates on the status of the former scion. Apparently, there’s another scion of the historic Washington Elm located in Washington Park Arboretum and a cutting from this scion is being used to create another scion to plant in the same spot where the former scion existed. You can read the blog site here: https://facilities.uw.edu/blog/posts/2016/10/07/george-washington-tree-splits

  2. Jay Tompkins says:

    There was an episode of Death Valley Days from 1957 which was about the scion from Cambridge (The Washington Elm) that gives a good story on this. I watched it on Youtube early this morning.

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