Julie Moore remembers the days when majestic elm trees lined the main streets of Windham, creating a shady canopy over her head.

With those days in mind, Moore is trying to single-handedly revive the trees in her town, and her efforts reflect a growing trend to restore elms in communities around the state and in the nation.

“They were the premier street tree,” said Yvonne Spalthoff, associate director of the Elm Research Institute in Keane, New Hampshire.

Before the elm trees were nearly decimated by the Dutch’s Elm Disease in 1960s and 1970s, according to Spalthoff, the trees were synonymous with the main streets of many towns, especially in New England.

Hardy, salt resistant, and quick to grow, she said, elm trees were known to create “a nice green tunnel” across the street as they grew to heights of 60 to 70 feet with equal widths at the top.

For 20 years, the Elm Research Institute has been working to propagate an elm tree that is resistant to the disease, and so far the organization has shipped 300,000 of these trees nationwide.

Ten thousand of those trees have found their way to Maine, as communities such as Kittery, Kennebunk, Yarmouth, Camden, Damariscotta, Brunswick, and Castine are buying them up in order to restore what once was, she said.

While doing research on the trees, Moore contacted the Elm Research Institute, and the institute helped her to have a 12-foot ceremonial elm tree, sponsored by Wal-Mart, planted on Ward Road in Windham.

The tree, called a “Liberty Memorial Tree,” commemorates an elm tree in Boston, which bore two effigies to protest the Stamp Act. According to the plaque, the famous elm was cut down by the British before their evacuation of Boston in 1775.

Moore, familiar with just about every elm in the town of Windham, looks closely at the branches of the commemorative tree, in effort to gauge its health.

“There were a few elm trees on Ward Road when I was a kid,” Moore said. “That’s why I’m so anxious to get one back in the neighborhood,” she said.

“When I was a child they were all over the place. The roads were lined with them, and it was so beautiful,” Moore said.

In addition to planting the elms in town, Moore said she also wants to spread the word that “you can plant an elm, and it’s not necessarily going to die, and it’s an American elm.”

Moore, who works at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, purchased another elm to be planted at the college in honor of her husband, who died in July.

The college has a few elms on its grounds including a large 45-year-old elm, about 70 feet high that grows behind Xavier Hall. Moore, a graduate of St. Joseph’s, wrote a story about her efforts to save the elms for the college’s alumni magazine, for which she was photographed beneath the large elm.

Moore also has a small one growing in the front of her home, a tree given to her by her family, also in remembrance of her husband.

The tree was bought at O’Donal’s Nursery in Gorham, which sells more and more of the trees every year, said owner Jeff O’Donal. And, if O’Donal has his way, that trend will continue.

According to O’Donal, the nursery has been involved in testing the disease-resistant elm, which is aptly named the Valley Forge Elm, for years, he said.

“We’ve been on the inside track… we knew about this tree 10 years ago before anybody else did,” O’Donal said.

O’Donal said the nursery has probably sold about 45 elms in the last year.

For example, one of the nursery’s largest customers, the city of Portland purchased 20 elms over the last three years.

O’Donal said the reasons for the resurging interest in elm trees are the same as they were 200 years ago.

“They’re majestic trees,” O’Donal said. “They grow up and out,” which makes it easy to grow things under them or to play under them, he said.

“It’s nostalgia. There’s an innate feeling to wanting to bring them back…it’s that sense of fulfillment,” O’Donal said.


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