Historical Accounts of White Pine Heights - A Compilation  

From: "Edward Frank" <edfr...@comcast.net>
Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 18:06:39 -0500
Local: Thurs, Jan 28 2010 7:06 pm
Subject: Historical Accounts of White Pine Heights - A Compilation


Recently we have had some discussions regarding reports of white pines in New England reaching heights of 250 feet, and one case of 300 feet. These have been spread out over a half dozen topics and much discussion about whether or not these heights were possible.  What I want to do here is to simply compile a listing of these accounts and their sources.  I do not want this Thread to be a discussion of whether they existed or not - It should simply be a compilation of these reports.  If you have copies of any of these accounts please add them to the thread. I have included excerpts from GREAT EASTERN TREES, PAST AND PRESENT by Colby B. Rucker, from the Bulletin of The Eastern native Tree Society, Volume 3, Issue 4 7 Fall 2008.   I also have included to start a copy of a post by Time Zelazo - I am not sure of the source or date, and some general background information from Jack Sobon - beyond this I just want to compile the historical accounts and not have an extended discussion of their validity.  

Edward Frank
Western Pennsylvania


GREAT EASTERN TREES, PAST AND PRESENT by Colby B. Rucker, from the Bulletin of The Eastern native Tree Society, Volume 3, Issue 4 7 Fall 2008

New Hampshire: Eastern White Pine. A pine cut long ago on the site of Dartmouth College was said to have been 240' tall. Although many doubt the species is capable of attaining such a height, the legend has persisted. Reference: Lane, Ferdinand C., 1953. The Story of Trees, pp. 67-68.

New York:  Eastern White Pine, It is said that a fallen specimen at Meridith, New York measured 247 feet in length. Reference:  American Forests, Spring 2000, p. 38. Comments: No other details are available. No authenticated records indicate that such heights were actually attained.

Pennsylvania: Eastern White Pine. Girth 37 feet, height 200 feet. "Felled near Cedar Run." Reference: Lane, Ferdinand C., 1953. The Story of Trees, p.67. Comments: Lane gives no other details. The girth seems excessive, even at grade.

Wisconsin:  Eastern white pine. A white pine felled near the Flambeau River, in northwest Wisconsin yielded 14 logs that scaled 22,620 board feet. Reference: Stevens Point Journal, 2/26/1898. (courtesy of Paul Jost, 2/16/2004).
Eastern white pine. A white pine near the Plover River, in the Hatley area of Marathon County, was reported to have a circumference of 19' 6", and a height of nearly 200 feet.  Reference: S. A. Sherman, pioneer lumberman, 1884. (courtesy of Paul Yost, 2/16/2004).

Eastern white pine. A white pine to be cut on the land of Mr. Wadleigh, near Hatley, Marathon County, was said to be the largest in Wisconsin. It was 27 feet in circumference. Reference:  Stevens Point Journal, 12/1/1883. (courtesy of Paul Yost, 2/16/2004).


Tim Zelazo posted on December 15, 2009:

This is just an old article for Ed so please don't take it as the truth.

 The article above talks about a burial June 23, 1849.


Jack Sobon,  January 5, 2010
Dear Gaines,
Thanks for keeping the White pine height debate alive.  I read the white pine info at the link you referenced but didn't glean the same information that you did.  First off, nowhere was there indicated a maximum height potential, regardless of site index.  Second, the charts showing growth increments are for sites in the Southern Appalachians, the Southern extreme of White pine's range.  The historic reports of 250+ trees are all in New England, at the center of its range.  Third, site index does not take into account the micro climate and topography.  We've all seen those  damp, sheltered hollows and ravines where nutrients collect, the ground stays wet all through the growing season, and mosses cover everything, where trees are protected from wind and are substantially taller and healthier than those outside the area though of similar age.  That's where the tallest trees are now and would have been historically.  Not a lot of trees in the 250' class, just a handful scattered across the   Northeast but certainly thousands of trees over 180' (our current Northeast tallest pine).

Also, according to that chart, the height difference between trees growing on the poorest sites to those on the best is 60 feet, not 20.  
As for annual growth after 55 years being about a foot,  I've felled trees in the 55-80 year old class where I've measured the annual height growth for the last three years over 30" per year.  A chart for the Southern Appalachians won't necessarily apply to New England.
Though the account of a 300 foot pine in Charlemont, Massachusetts may be stretched, surely some of the other 250'+ accounts must be true.  They had accurate measuring devices then.  Though they lacked the techno-gizmo's of today, they were not primitive.  There were surveyors, builders, and others skilled in measuring then.  When I measure old structures from the 1700's, they are typically within a quarter inch on a sixty foot length.  A modern steel measuring tape can vary that much from winter to summer with thermal expansion.  Just because we don't have them today, doesn't mean there weren't 250 footers then.  Nowhere in New England are there now pines growing in an ideal spot (like that I mentioned above) where they have been undisturbed for 400 years!
Jack Sobon


Silvics of North America, United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Agriculture Handbook 654G. W. Wendel and H. Clay Smith

Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), also called northern white pine, is one of the most valuable trees in eastern North America. Before the arrival of white men, virgin stands contained an estimated 3.4 billion m (600 billion fbm) of lumber. By the late 1800's most of those vast stands had been logged. Because it is among the more rapid growing northern forest conifers, it is an excellent tree for reforestation projects, landscaping, and Christmas trees and has the distinction of having been one of the more widely planted American trees.

Growth and Yield- White pine is a long-lived tree commonly reaching 200 years if undisturbed; maximum age may exceed 450 years. It has a remarkable rate of growth compared to other pine and hardwood species within its range (20). Trees 102 cm (40 in) in d.b.h. and 46 m (150 ft) tall were common in the virgin forests of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New England (71). In the "National Register of Big Trees" (54), there are two champion white pines: one in Michigan is 168 cm (66 in) in diameter and 48.2 m (158 ft) tall, and the other in Maine is 173 cm (68 in) in diameter and 44.8 m (147 ft) tall.


Date: Wed, 6 Jan 2010 12:08:26 -0800 (PST)

Subject: Re: [ENTS] Re: White pine growth rates--something of interest about growth possibilities

Dear Gaines, Ed Frank, Bob, ENTS,

 I would be highly suspect of historical white pine height measurements of standing trees, but I believe all the reports are of felled specimens.  As for measuring felled trees, I have dropped thousands of white pine in the 80-120' range and measured a few hundred.  The trunk occasionally fractures at upper branch whorls and the top 3 or 4 feet might have to be looked for nearby but the tree's trunk is still intact and easy to measure after limbing. I think that if someone wanted bragging rights to an exceptional tree, they probably had it verified.  

The other stumbling block to this maximum height issue seems to be the exposure and canopy height issue.  Most of you are envisioning a typical forest canopy on gently rolling ground.  In such forests, I doubt the trees would have reached 200 feet.  However, in a rugged landscape there are occasional pockets where trees can be much taller without being unduly exposed.  In these rare cases, a pine could reach 250 feet and still be protected.  I attach a sketch illustrating my point.  The top drawing shows a forested ridge with the sun behind it.  As you will see, the canopy height is not parallel with the ridge but tends to even out the profile.  It is shorter at peaks and higher in hollows.  Check this out for yourself at sunrise or sunset.  It is easier this time of year with the leaves off and the sun so low.  The lower drawing shows how a single 250 foot pine growing in a ravine can be way above other trees and still not be too  exposed.  

The moist, fertile environment and quest for sun would encourage such growth.  This would be a rare condition of course hence the relatively few historical reports of such trees.  To my knowledge, none of the tallest pines measured recently (MA 169', CT 172', PA 182', NC 207') are growing in such a protected site and none are of the diameters of the historic examples.  For instance, the Charlemont, MA pine felled in 1849 was seven feet in diameter 10' from the stump and 5' diameter 50' from the stump.  Our tallest pine today has a 44" DBH!  Every one is looking for reasons why it couldn't be true instead of how it might be true.  Is 250' really that far-fetched?  Where are the optimists?

Jack Sobon





From: "Edward Frank" <edfr...@comcast.net>
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 2010 23:09:06 -0500
Local: Sat, Jan 30 2010 12:09 am
Subject: Re: [ENTS] Historical Accounts of White Pine Heights - A Compilation


These accounts from the earlier part of the thread were left out of the last post.  Thanks to Tim.


Timothy Zelazo, Nov. 14, 2009

While I was doing some historic research on the cultural history of the Natural Bridge State Park, located in North Adams Massachusetts, I found an interesting article in the Weekly Transcript, North Adams, Mass., Thursday, July 12, 1849. *A Large Tree. --- Mr. D. E. Hawks, of Charlemont, cut a Pine tree a short time since, of the following dimensions.  It was 7 feet through 10 feet from the stump, and 5 feet through 50 feet from the stump.  Twenty-two logs were taken from the tree, the average length of which were 12 feet.  Fourteen feet of the tree were spoiled in falling.  The extreme length of the tree from the stump to the top twigs was 300 feet! ---- Greenfield Gazette.*


Jack Sobon, Nov. 15, 2009

This is my first foray into the ENTS cyber world as I have only recently got email, but talk of a 300 footer sure gets me going.  Tim told me of this account years ago and I have been thinking of it ever since.   There are other historical accounts of similar tall pine:

        247'             Meredith, NY History of the Lumber Industry in the State of New York
        250'             Timothy Dwights' Travels in New England and New York
        240'              Dartmouth, NH A Natural History of Trees    
        260'              Lincoln, NH Forest Giants of the World Past and Present
        262'              Forest Giants...
        264'              NH. Forest Giants...

Three hundred feet is not much taller than these historical record pines, especially considering that Charlemont currently has the tallest pines in New England-New York and may have had them in the past as well.  The Charlemont account of 300' can't be a typo as 22 - 12' (average length) logs comes to 264 feet.  Charlemont also has a combination of good bottom land soils and rugged typography adjacent to it.  With its feet in rich soil, a pine growing in the bottom of a cove or next to a steep bank or cliff face could easily be a hundred feet taller to have its top up with nearby trees, protected from the wind.  Also consider that these were much larger diameter trees (six to ten feet) and probably substantially older than anything growing today.  Only a small percentage of the most fertile land is actually used to grow timber today, it being used mostly for farmland or developement.  So, given the best sites, protection from the winds, and  thousands of years of forest growth to raise the canopy height, this account is not so far fetched.
Jack Sobon


Bruce Allen, Nov. 18, 2009

Bromley (Ecology 1935) focused only on southern NE (MA, CN, RI).  The President of Dartmouth College measured a white pine on the ground in Hanover, NH at over 250 ft tall in the late 1800's (I don't have the reference or
exact #'s here). There were 6 or 7 heights measured in NH at over 250' by people who should have known how to measure accurately in NH in the 1800's (I have the box of original citations from my dad somewhere).

Bromley's examples: "At least we do not have today any white pines of 250 feet in height and 6 feet in diameter as recorded by Dwight (1821, Vol. I, p. 36) or 264 feet, as a Lancaster, New Hanlpshire, tree was reported to have been; or the trees at Blandford, Massachusetts, said by Enlerson to have been 223 feet in height. Probably, however, some of the very large trees in the original forest reached a height of 200 feet."


Steve Galehouse, Nov. 18, 2009

I have reprint copies of a couple of old botanical texts, one first printed in 1896, the other 1922. Both mention the potential height for white pine at 220' or taller. Looking at other species in the text, most are at what we would consider to be in the normal range for typical maximum heights: 120' for red pine, 100' for hemlock, 100' for white oak, etc. This leads me to believe that 100 or so years ago white pines 220' tall were perhaps infrequent but not that exceptional. Books like these had no pressure or reason to exaggerate size.    Interestingly a few other species are listed at heights they seem not to attain anymore: 180' for pecan, 200' for tuliptree, and 170' for bur oak.


Jack Sobon, Nov. 19, 2009

I don't think we really grasp the size and height that pine can reach when left alone for hundreds of years on good sites.  Unfortunately, we didn't have cameras around when New England's original forests were harvested and very few trees were measured then.  I enclose a photo of some big pine logs (4-6' dia.)in Minnesota from the book "Tall Timber, A Pictorial History of Logging in the Upper Midwest" by Tom Bacig and Fred Thompson.  These logs are probably from exceptional trees and appear to have little or no taper.  They may in fact all be from the same tree. Enjoy!


Bruce Allen, Nov. 20, 2009

Here are some quotes from an 1897 publications: In 1897, Prof. C. S. Sargent, an outstanding student of New England's forests, added considerabley more evidence of the great change in pine growth (Sargent, 1897).  "A tree, usually growing under favorable conditions to a height of one hundred or one hundred and twenty feet with a trunk from three to four feet in diameter, or, exceptionally, to the height of two hundred and fifty feet, with a trunk six feet in diameter.  'An., 1736, near the Merrimack River a little above Dunstable , was cut a white pine straight and sound, seven feet eight inches in diameter at the butt end.'. Dwight speaks of 'white pine 6 feet in diameter and frequently 250 feet in height', and reports a tree in Lincoln, New Hampshire, of
which he had heard , two hundred and sizty feet high.         "According to Williamson, 'the white pine has been seen 6 feet in diameter at the butt and 240 feet in height, and those over 4 feet through are frequent.' . This was in 1832.  Such trees, if they still exist in New England, are exceedingly rare, and white pines one hundred and fifty feet high with trunks four feet now excite astonishment and admiration."