Quincy News

Quincy's 'Lincoln Tree' may become the focus of new historical exhibit

Burt Reef and Paul Woelfel work to cut a “cookie” from the Lincoln Tree on Friday at 1444 Maine, the former Baker House. The giant black oak tree fell in the 2015 windstorm but was possibly standing tall and proud when Abraham Lincoln came to Quincy in 1858 for one of his famous political debates with Stephen A. Douglas. The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County plans to date the tree and display it at some point. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Aug. 17, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Aug. 17, 2019 12:07 am

QUINCY -- A giant black oak tree believed to date to the time of Abraham Lincoln -- or earlier -- was one of the heart-wrenching victims of the July 13, 2015, windstorm that toppled many of Quincy's tallest and grandest trees.

But now the old "Lincoln Tree," as many people call it, may be getting a new breath of life as part of an upcoming exhibit at the History Museum on the Square, 332 Maine.

The once-towering tree stood for decades on a lot at 1444 Maine, now owned by Sue Guetersloh, who bought the former Board of Education headquarters in 2011 and has been restoring the mansion ever since.

Prior to the windstorm, several local residents were exploring the possibility of getting the big oak declared an "Abraham Lincoln Tree" and having it listed on the Illinois Big Tree Register as one of the tallest trees in the Land of Lincoln.

But those efforts went awry when straight-line winds clocked at 74 mph ripped through Quincy and knocked down hundreds of the city's most spectacular trees, including the would-be Lincoln tree.

In the aftermath of the wind disaster, Guetersloh directed a tree-cutting crew to set aside several big sections of the historic tree's trunk so she could use them for future woodworking projects.

Then earlier this year, when Guetersloh learned that the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County was planning a new historical exhibit on the "Making of Illinois," she agreed to give the organization one section of the tree's trunk. The goal was to slice the trunk in half, from one side to the other, to reveal the tree's annual growth rings as a novel way of illustrating the passage of years.

The slicing process took place Friday when a tree crew from Grafton arrived at Guetersloh's property with a massive portable saw with a 70-inch blade.

After stabilizing the trunk as it lay on its side, a three-man crew carefully cut a dozen four-inch-thick slices from the trunk, each of them about five feet wide in diameter.

Lynn Snyder, a volunteer coordinating the project for the History Museum, refers to these giant slices as "cookies."

"You have to image a cookie the size of a dining room table," Snyder said.

The History Museum will now take these cookies and have them examined by a dendrochronologist -- a professional who examines the growth rings on a tree to decipher the tree's age.

This calculation is based on the new outer layer that forms on a living tree each year, creating a visible ring. By counting rings from the outside bark to the center, the dendrochronologist can tell how old the tree might be.

In this particular case, History Museum officials hope to produce an exhibit that will visibly associate the tree's growth rings with actual events in local history.

For example, many Historical Society members are hoping the dendrochronologist will find evidence that the oak was standing in Quincy at the time Lincoln came here in 1858 for the sixth of his seven debates with Stephen A. Douglas while they competed for a U.S. Senate seat. Douglas won that election, but the notoriety Lincoln received propelled him to the presidency two years later.

Snyder said the best-looking cookie from the Lincoln Tree -- the one with the most clearly delineated rings -- will ultimately be sanded down, polished and perhaps covered with a layer of protective sealant as a long-lasting visual display of local history.

"I think it's going to be spectacular," she said. "I think it will be fun for people to see it. This is a huge project, and we've got all kinds of people helping us."

Snyder said she is especially grateful to Guetersloh for donating a portion of the tree trunk to the Historical Society.

"I think it's a wonderful thing that she's done," Snyder said. "She's sharing history with us. I think it is terrific."

Snyder got excited Friday when she discovered a clipping from the Feb. 2, 1902, edition of the Quincy Daily Herald newspaper that mentioned an upcoming auction of the property at 1444 Maine. The story described the house on the lot and said it was "surrounded by the original forest trees" of the city.

If the so-called Lincoln Tree was among those original trees, then theoretically it was standing before Quincy was founded by John Wood in 1822 -- and was already standing tall when Lincoln came to visit 36 years later.


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