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.