After great fall, giant made a tour
A badly age-scarred millstone stands at the end of Silver Creek’s West Main Street where Route 20 from Fredonia enters the village. It marks the location of a giant black walnut tree that once grew on this spot. The millstone was placed at this location by former members of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as an historical marker.
The towering tree’s lowermost branches rose 70 feet from the ground and grew on land owned by Luther Heaton. In April 1822 it was blown down in a storm and its base was found to be almost hollow.
It lay where it had fallen for three years until the spring of 1825 when Heaton decided to use a portion of it as an annex to his nearby store and had a 13-foot section cut from the tree. It required four yoke oxen and a dozen men to roll the cut-off section to a spot where it could be worked on.
The hollow inside was worked down and smoothed. After the bark and decayed wood was cut away by four men working five days, there remained a shell of uniform thickness of four inches. The trunk section was 31 feet in circumference and over 10 feet in diameter. When the shell was erected, a doorway was made and a door, 8 feet high and equipped with strap hinges was installed. A roof and floor were added. Seating for 20 people ran around the room, and a roundtable, 4 feet across was built.
A few years afterward, the tree became a matter of dispute when the roads department claimed it was on public property. Eventually, Titus Roberts from Fredonia and S. Stearns from the town of Hanover bought the tree from Heaton for 200 pounds and made plans to take the tree to Buffalo for exhibition. Owing to its size, the law prohibited the tree from being transported by a lake vessel, so it was arranged that Walter of Dunkirk would tow the shell to Buffalo with his small schooner, the “Dunkirk Packet.” It took the better part of two days to haul the tree, pulled by 10 oxen, down Main Street, across the Howard Street bridge and down what is now Lake Avenue to the lakefront, where it was launched and taken in tow by the “Dunkirk Packet” waiting at the mouth of the creek.
Good weather prevailed and it reached Buffalo without mishap. After a successful tour of Buffalo, the tree’s owners wanted to take the tree to New York City on the Erie Canal when it opened for the 1826 spring traffic, but they found that the tree would be unable to pass under the many low bridges between Buffalo and Albany. This problem was solved by sawing it in half and later putting it back together again with straps of bar iron riveted through the timber. After more tours in New York, the tree’s owners sold it to a British museum for $2,000.
This remarkable old tree finally was lost when the museum burned down. It was a sad ending for a giant of nature.
Agnes “Pat” Pfleuger is a Dunkirk resident.