Area elm is biggest in state, group says

MILFORD – The elm tree beside 30 Joslin Road may date to before the Revolutionary War, owner Tom Curtis said during ceremonies last week proclaiming it the largest American elm tree in the state.

The tree is indeed huge. It measures 18 feet 3 inches around, stands 126 feet tall, and has a crown spread of 115 feet. It is rated as being in “fair condition,” which is fine, because most of the state’s big elms succumbed years ago to Dutch elm disease.

The crown would be bigger, Curtis said, but his father removed branches that were over the house, and Public Service of New Hampshire keeps the other side trimmed to protect the light wires.

“Public Service wanted to cut it down about 20 years ago,” Curtis said. “I told them they could cut it when it died.”

Curtis said a large limb broke off a few years ago that was said to be “as big as most trees,” but it fell beside the road and did no damage.

The presentation and installation of a sign at the Milford tree was made Wednesday by the New Hampshire Register of Big Trees, a program co-sponsored by the UNH Cooperative Extension that tracks “outstanding examples” of more than 100 different species, tracking the biggest by county and by state.

The size is based on a combination of height, trunk diameter and crown spread, a method used by the national Big Tree program.

Curtis and his wife Shirley talked about the tree. He recalled a year when wood ducks nested in a high branch.

“I happened to see when they kicked the babies out of the nest,” he said. “They just tumbled down to the ground, and then walked away. They must have been 70 feet up.”

Shirley recalled a year when a raccoon made her nest in a cavity. “Just that once,” she said. “The dogs discouraged them.”

They both recalled orioles nesting in the tree, one year two pairs.

“I don’t do much with it,” Tom said, but there is a garden of hens and chickens on the bank from the tree to the road.

Shirley mentioned that their son Brent had been married under it in 2004 “on the side toward the house,” she said, where there is a patch of lawn.

Tom said his family has owned the farm for 98 years. “Maybe we’ll have a party for it in two years,” he said.

It is one of the few commercial farms in the area. Tom has been operating the farm since the death of his father in 1980. He worked with his father before that.

Following the presentation, the Big Tree group traveled to Amherst where they presented an “honorary plaque” for a dogwood tree. The tree has been displaced as the largest by the discovery of another, larger tree.

Brookes said the Big Tree program is planning a bus tour to visit many of the local champions toward the end of September.