1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


The American Chestnut Tree

I am sorry I never got to see the American Chestnut tree during its glory years. Iím told they grew straight up into the sky for 100 feet or more. That the tree provided food for man and beast, that the wood was used for dye, and for firewood and lumber and for furniture. I have seen some century old buildings, which stand almost as they did when first built. I have witnessed the furor and excitement that a newly discovered supply of rare chestnut lumber can cause among woodworkers.

Several times during our life we have been fortunate enough to have a few hybrid chestnut trees growing on our property, I sort of liked the nuts from them but not the smell, although old timers say they canít compare with the taste of the real thing.

On the farms in Virginia, where I grew up, there were the stark skeletons of many gigantic trees, some five feet or more in diameter, and always around them one would find chestnut trees of three or four feet in height, my Dad, when he saw them, would always say a prayer for their survival, none did!

We burned wood in the stoves and the fireplaces, in the living room and, at times, in the bedrooms in bitterly cold weather, but especially in the Home Comfort cooking range that remained in the kitchen for winter use. It was my brother and my job to carry in the wood and split the kindling, each load of wood would have a mixture of woods, some oak, hickory, maple and a smaller amount of walnut and wild cherry and always some trash woods not good for much of anything, elm and others, that didnít do much except burn with a miserly cold flame.

But always in the mix would be chestnut, great bolls of chestnut one could split with a hatchet and light with a match. Wonderful kindling wood, wonderful wood from which to whittle wooden daggers and rifles and the baseball bats we played with and left lying in the grass when we were through.

I can remember my mother and dad talking in reminiscence of walking through the forests of chestnut little knowing the trees were doomed. Chestnut wood was harvested from the dead trees up into the 1950ís and sold for various purposes, in the early 60ís, in Alderson I purchased a truck load of chestnut from near Clayton to use for a rail fence!

Any of you who may have seen the chestnut in itís prime, and I donít really expect there are many of you left who were so blessed, Iím sure you know. I donít expect to see anything like the Chestnutís of old I have heard about, but I hope perhaps my grandchildren may, that is if, in the meantime, we havenít killed everything on the earth.


The American Chestnut Tree essay was so moving. My father, also, was a tree lover, and especially mourned the dying of the Chestnut. I vividly remember going with him to visit his father, Samuel Sylvester Steele who was living on a farm near Sinks Grove. My father parked the car on the paved road that went to Pickaway, I've forgotten the route number, we climbed over the guard rail, went through a barbed wire fence and started cross country up the slope to the hill farm where my elderly grandfather was living with his daughter. I was mystified why we were hiking to their little house as I knew we had driven up there before.

In about 10 minutes we had crossed the pasture and were climbing up through a woods. Some times my father would stop and look in all directions like he was searching for something. He was. Suddenly he exclaimed, "Oh, there it is" as he took quick steps to the right and began searching the ground. He had found what he wanted--chestnuts!

I was not a very happy hiker, I was only six years old and could scarcely keep up with him and certainly had inadequate clothing for rough hiking on a cold day. But he had taken me there because he wanted me to see this giant of a tree and eat some chestnuts before this tree died like all of the others. He also gave me a lesson, somewhat like McCurdy's essay, about what a wonderful, important tree it was. It had provided food for people and pigs and fence rails and made beautiful walls for people who had grand houses.

We finally hiked on to see frail Grandfather Steele but took the road back to where the car was parked. I didn't appreciate this "field trip" until many, many years later. Now I can say that I ate some American Chestnuts and saw one magnificent dying giant.

Thanks, McCurdy

Mary Margaret Steele Morgan age 83