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May 15, 2018

Chestnut, Gone but Not Forgotten

Some American History:

For the most part, people will understand what you mean when you refer to  “Reclaimed wood”.  [No, this is not the table your grandmother threw out 50 years ago- ]   It is often generically referred to as “barn wood” or “salvaged wood” and has been recovered from fallen century old barns and structures.  Typically speaking pine, spruce, hemlock, oak and chestnut were used in many of these circa 1880’s structures.  If you are lucky enough to get your hands on one that was built from chestnut, your wallet [and your wife] will be thankful.  Extremely plentiful in the 1900’s  the durable, rot resistant chestnut wood was used in the building of homes and barns, railroad ties, and the nuts were gathered for feeding livestock.  It was the least expensive option for anyone building at that time and was widely available.   
 
  Today, chestnut wood is extremely rare due to the devastating airborne disease in the 1920’s that killed billions of chestnut trees along the Eastern seaboard. At the beginning of the 20th century, the fungal pathogen responsible for chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) was accidentally imported into the U.S. from Asia. It was first detected in New York in 1904, spreading rapidly throughout the eastern forests. As a wound pathogen, the fungus enters the tree through an injury in the bark. The flow of nutrients eventually choked off  sections of the tree above the infection, killing the tree above ground. By 1950, the fungus had eliminated the American chestnut as a mature forest tree.The chestnut tree was know to be so plentiful that its been reported that a “squirrel could jump from tree to tree from Maine to Georgia without touching the ground”.   At one point there were approximately 4 billion chestnut trees in the East which were attacked by the Asian disease.    The chestnut blight has been called the greatest ecological disaster to strike the world’s forests in all of history.  The American chestnut tree survived all adversaries for 40 million years, then disappeared within 40.