400 Year Old Tree Falls at Big Elk Mall

By David Healey

On Sunday morning, while running errands in Elkton, I was sorry to see that the Holly Hall Oak Tree had finally toppled. This ancient tree stood near the entrance to Big Elk Mall at Rt. 40 (next to the Elkton Diner). A couple was walking around the tree, taking photos.

The tree takes its name from Holly Hall, the early 1800s mansion just down the hill. I have a photo that shows volunteers cleaning brush away from the big tree in 1975, before Big Elk Mall was built. At the time, there was just a lot of scrub brush on the site and a billboard almost right up against the tree. It’s hard to imagine a time when Big Elk Mall — home of Acme, Dunkin Donuts and Kmart, among others — did not exist. Yet, if you think about it, this old oak was around before there was a Cecil County, a Maryland, a United States — or even any European settlers.

State arborists had said the tree was more than 400 years old, which means it must have started growing long before Captain John Smith explored the upper Chesapeake Bay.

An article from the Cecil Democrat reports that according to the (late) Howard Henry, Cecil County Bicentennial chairman, the tree was listed in an inventory called “Penn’s Woods” of landmark trees standing when William Penn landed in 1682.

Back in 1975, the tree had a circumference of 20 feet, 4 inches. It measured 72 feet tall and had a spread of 102 feet. Rather impressive. In recent years the tree had been pruned back, apparently in an attempt to prolong its life.

One can only imagine all the history this tree has witnessed, from our area’s progression from untouched forest to the constructed of Route 40 and Big Elk Mall centuries later.

We’ll miss this landmark tree and I hope that another long-lived tree is planted in its place. Can you imagine the stories that new tree might tell about the next 400 years?


David Healey, an author specializing in historical fiction and Chesapeake Bay regional history has provided us with a piece on  the passing of the author of “the Blue Max,” Jack Hunter.  He also maintains “David’s Blog.”   Earlier he allowed us to publish a piece on the passing of Jack D. Hunter.  Thanks David.


3 responses to “400 Year Old Tree Falls at Big Elk Mall

  1. Great story Dave. Nice to be able to search Google and find your story. I took a few pictures of it today for the Bill Hughes Gazette. Thank you.

  2. Bill:

    Always happy to have a Cecil County Photojournalist stop by and post on the blog. We remember your excellent work too, from back in the 1980s, a few years after Jim Cheeseman retired from the job. Stop by and post occassionally whenever a topic gets your attention and take care of that valuable body of work you accumulated when you were on the Cecil County beat bringing home valued news content for readers.

  3. David,

    I add my voice of gratitude for your article about the Holly Hall Oak. It was indeed a venerable county landmark and will be missed. Does anyone know if there are plans to accurately date the tree, now that it has met its demise? Also, what will become of its remains? Are any descendants possible from its seeds? Several years ago a similarly aged tree fell on the grounds of Colonial Williamsburg. Acorns from the old tree were cultivated and planted in the vicinity of the original to continue its legacy.

    I further appreciate Mr. Healey’s query, “Can you imagine the stories that new tree might tell about the next 400 years?” If I may be so bold, I would use his comment as an excuse to comment on the recent alleged impropriety on Elkton’s Town Council: Where is the media on this story? Where is the public outcry? Where are the town fathers (and mothers) when their ethics are challenged? Is the Ethics Commission aware of the allegations? Are its members ignoring them? What path of protest are citizens to take if their elected officials brush their concerns aside?

    I can only quote my mentor, Thomas Jefferson who said in 1782,

    “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever….”


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