The Mall In Central Park & The American Elms
Central Park was once young and so were its trees. We are looking south from 72nd Street in this rare circa 1870 stereoview photograph. You can see the American elm trees along both sides of the Mall that had been planted only a decade before. If you’ve been along this famous stretch of the park, you know that the trees are a constant – always the same year after year for over 100 years. To see the trees at this height is a startling sight.
Looking up from the steps of Bethesda Terrace we can see a Central Park guard standing on the left along with a few people milling about in the foreground. The structure on the right is the original bandstand, where concerts were given. There are a few benches along the path, no statues and no fences.
Today there are signs that are posted on fences that run along the Mall in Central Park. They read: Protect the American elm – Keep Out. The reason we are told to keep out is so future generations will be able to marvel at this magnificent sight.
The splendor and beauty of Central Park is encapsulated by the Mall which runs about a quarter mile in the southern section of the park from 67th to 72nd Street, terminating at the Terrace and Bethesda Fountain.
The Mall is one of the few features in the park that has remained completely true to original park planners Frederick Law Olmsted’s and Calvert Vaux’s vision of the park. The Mall was in their Greensward plan as “the Promenade, ” a tree lined grand strolling area.
In the summer the canopy of shade created by the American elm trees that line the Mall is a sight to behold. In the winter with snow atop the branches the Mall looks like a scene out a fairy tale book.
Many people will stop during their walk and take pictures of the Mall and its magnificent elm trees. Yet few realize that the American elm is in constant danger of extinction.
The beetle that attacks and spreads Dutch Elm disease is still a threat to the Mall’s trees and only constant vigilance and care by authorities keep Central Park’s elm trees safe.
Dutch Elm disease arrived in the United States in 1928, with the beetles that destroy the elms believed to having arrived in a shipment of logs from The Netherlands that were to be used as veneer in the Ohio furniture industry.
Effective quarantine and sanitation procedures held most cases of the disease to within 150 miles of New York City until 1941 when the resources necessary to battle the disease were diverted to war efforts.
The disease then spread from the Middle Atlantic states throughout New England. The famous elms in the “Elm City” of New Haven, Connecticut were practically wiped out. Detroit was hit by the disease in 1950; Chicago by 1960, and Minneapolis by 1970.
Of the estimated 77 million elms in North America in 1930, over 75% had been lost by 1989.
Let’s hope the future bodes better for Central Park and its American elms.