A towering maple tree planted 147 years ago by schoolchildren to honor the passing of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln will be distinguished with a historic marker in the Town of Hanover today.
The dedication of the blue-and-yellow metal sign telling of the significance of the "Lincoln Maple" will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Allegany Road near Mackinaw Road in the town. The public is welcome to the event.
The tree, a sturdy maple that is located on private property that has been in the same family for generations, is an important link to the past for both the country and Chautauqua County, said Vincent Martonis, Hanover historian and curator of the Hanover History Center in Silver Creek.
"It's very historic," said Martonis, who organized the effort to get the marker installed. "Lincoln has, as we well know, a history of contact with Chautauqua County. The incident (with Grace Bedell) in Westfield, of course. But he stopped in Hanover with his inaugural train ... (and) his funeral train stopped there for wood and water."
"In Hanover, a little girl walked up and presented him with a bouquet of rosebuds."
According to local lore, those same local schoolchildren were devastated by the president's death toward the end of the Civil War. The story of how the children planted the memorial maple came down through the decades because one of the children who was there told his children and grandchildren, who passed the story down to the modern day, said Martonis.
"People should know where (the tree) is – and also connect the local history with regional and national history," said Martonis, a retired English professor. "Sometimes people don't realize that significant national events had local tie-ins."
"Here we see how schoolchildren were affected by the death of a dearly loved president. They expressed their grief and their love through the planting of a maple tree."
It will be the first time in nearly a century and a half that the tree has gotten any sort of official designation as a historic and tourist site in Western New York, said Martonis.
The historic marker cost $1,200, money raised through private donations, said Martonis. The installation of the marker is part of a series of five historic sites that will be given such designations in the Hanover area, as part of 200th anniversary celebrations for the town, which was founded in 1812.
The marker for the tree reads this way:
"The Lincoln Maple: This maple was planted in 1865 after Pres. Lincoln was assassinated. Schoolchildren from this Balltown school, built in 1820, planted it."
The tree is situated close to the side of the road along Allegany Road, in what used to be known as Balltown, a small hamlet in Hanover. The property held a small school building in the Civil War period, and the children of the school came up with the idea of planting a tree to honor Lincoln, the nation's 16th president, who had been assassinated in Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., in April 1865.
The old maple tree is healthy, despite its age and despite being hit by lightning a few years ago, and aside from some dead limbs that were trimmed last week. It is free of rot and full of life, the town historian said.
"Once we get the dead limbs trimmed off … the tree should live another 50, 60 years, if not more," said Martonis.
As a precaution for the future, the historian said, the family that owns the property where the maple is located took on the task of cultivating and planting a seedling from the tree, which now grows nearby.
That tree, perhaps the Lincoln Maple II of the future, is now 30 or 40 feet, Martonis said, and is growing strongly.
"People need to remember this event," he said.