This summer, Hillsdale faced some of the most severe storms its people have seen in years. The aftermath left Hillsdale residents with stories about some of their most well-known trees.
One of the losses of the first storm was a large sugar maple between Delp Hall and Lane Hall. After it fell, professor of English Dwight Lindley examined the rings and discovered that it dated back to the Civil War.
“The dating is not exactly precise because it can actually be hard to tell sometimes how many rings you’re looking at,” Lindley said. “I counted around 153, which would date it back to 1868, right after the Civil War.”
Hillsdale College played a significant role in the Civil War.
“The Civil War was this enormous cataclysm that happened almost as soon as the college started, about 20 years after its founding. It tore everything apart and killed a lot of young men,” Lindley said. “After the war, everyone was so grateful that it was over. They probably didn’t have a lot of money because it really evacuated all of the funds, but they really put in a lot of work beautifying the campus.”
At the time, there was a campus club dedicated to planting trees. The students involved in it planted many of the larger trees seen around campus.
“A lot of maples were planted, especially sugar maples, which live to about 150 to 200 years,” Lindley said. “They’ve grown up with the college. They have histories that have all been forgotten written into their substance, into all those rings that I counted in that tree.”
Lindley said he has a lot of fondness for the trees on campus.
“Trees are these enormous living things that we have stewardship of, but they’re also way older than us,” Lindley said. “They’ve been a constant presence in my life here from when I was a student to now. The living past is present to us in these trees.”
When the storm initially ripped through Hillsdale County, the National Weather Service issued “nine severe thunderstorm warnings, two flash flood warnings and three special marine warnings ahead of the storms,” according to a Detroit News article.
Two storms in particular caused significant damage to the Hillsdale and Jonesville areas. Some of the most noticeable damage done to Hillsdale’s campus was to the many trees that populate the area. The college’s Chief Administrative Officer Rich Pewe oversaw much of the post-storm cleanup.
“We’ve had some unusual storms this year,” Pewe said. “We don’t typically see this type of damage. The first one, back in late June, had huge winds in the middle of the night that acted like a tornado because it took down huge trees. They came up by the roots.”
The first of the severe storms required about seven large trees to be taken down, and the second storm took about seven more.
“There were some that were already on our list to watch for, to inspect on an annual basis, that had signs that the integrity of the tree was compromised, so we had to take those down,” Pewe said.
Referencing the loss of so many large trees on campus, Lindley said he would miss their constant presence.
“I’m not angry that it was cut down. It was in the last quarter of its lifespan. It was an old man tree,” Lindley said. “But it was still sad. It was like a really amazing person who has died, understandably, in the last part of his or her life and who has had a really noble history.”
Lindley noted the impact of losing so many old trees.
“I walk to school, and there are people that I know and say hello to because I walk past their houses everyday. I think trees are kind of like that too, in a way,” Lindley said. “Living things are all precious, and you get to know them and recognize their presence when you walk past.”