On Saturday, April 27, 2013, I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at a unique dedication ceremony at Fort Halifax Park in Halifax Township, Dauphin County, just north of the Borough of Halifax. The ceremony was to dedicate numerous London Plane Sycamores recently planted to, if you’re feeling poetic, fix what time has wrought. You see, these trees were planted to replace missing Sycamores in the National Register of Historic Places-listed Legislative Route 1 Sycamore Allee (see the nomination on CRGIS for more information and for references).
In 1922, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways, in cooperation with the Department of Forests and Waters (predecessors of PennDOT and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, respectively), planted approximately 536 Oriental Plane Sycamores. The trees were located along Legislative Route 1 (today’s PA Route 147) north and south of Halifax Borough; none were planted within the borough limits. There were approximately 383 trees planted south of the borough and approximately 163 planted to the north. (These rough counts are based on a count of the trees that appeared on the 1938 aerial photographs available from http://www.pennnpilot.psu.edu.)
Today, 314 trees remain: 240 south and 74 north of the borough. Despite the loss of trees, the allee is still clearly discernible. Even in areas where Sycamores are found on only one side of the road, it is clear that this is a designed man-made landscape.
The history of the LR 1 Sycamore Allee can be traced to a 1907 law that allowed the State Highway Commissioner to “…cause trees to be planted along…State Highways.” These trees were the property of the state and were purchased with road funds. Later, in the early 1920s, the Department of Highways joined with the Department of Forests and Waters to plant trees along “important” roads.
These plantings may also have been initiated in response to the end of the First World War. Conclusive documentation that the LR 1 Sycamore Allee was planted as a World War I memorial has yet to be discovered; however, just after the War, Charles Lathrop Pack of the American Forestry Association advocated for “Roads of Remembrance” along which would be planted allees in honor of World War I’s fallen soldiers. The record shows Congress took notice of this movement, with Senator McCormick of Illinois offering an amendment to the Snell Bill (which encouraged better forestry practices on private land) that would provide Federal funding for “Roads of Remembrance.” (The bill was unsuccessful.) Furthermore, returning soldiers who had spent time in France had seen many mature allees there. In fact, a photograph taken by Colonel H.W. Shoemaker showing an allee near Deauville, France, is included in the Pennsylvania State Archives’ records of the Department of Forests and Waters.
What is clear, though, is that, whether as memorial or as an early highway beautification project, the LR 1 Sycamore Allee is a significant example of early 20th century publicly-funded landscape architecture. What is arguably more important, though, is that the LR 1 Sycamore Allee is still an important part of the Halifax community, as evidenced by the attendance at the dedication ceremony. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (which created the National Register of Historic Places) states: “the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.” Everyone attending the Allee dedication in April gave witness to that sentiment.