NORWAY — At one time, North America was home to an estimated 77 million elm trees that shaded neighborhoods and inspired street names in many towns.

Early in the 20th century the trees were attacked by an invasive beetle, believed to have originated in the Netherlands and decimating elms worldwide by mid-century. By 1989, 75% of elms in the United States’ and Canada’s were gone.

Norway was no exception. No one knows exactly how many elm trees grew in town before Dutch elm disease invaded, but until very recently there were zero.

While making plans for Maine’s bicentennial, the Norway Historical Society came up with the idea to bring back elms as part of the town’s celebration. Early in 2020, with Planning Board chairman and founding Norway Downtown board member Dennis Gray leading the way, the Board of Selectmen approved the plan. The project would be funded by private donations collected by Town Manager Dennis Lajoie.

Gray hoped to have enough money by spring to purchase eight disease-resistant elms for an estimated $2,400.

COVID-19 put a stop to bicentennial festivities last year but not fundraising. Donations continued until $4,455 was collected.

“A year and a half ago we were going to find places and have an event around the bicentennial, but nothing happened because of the pandemic,” Lajoie said. “We were sitting on the money and once things started opening up a little bit it was time to do something with it.”

Lajoie purchased 10 Princeton elm saplings in September and, along with Gray and Norway Recreation Director Deb Partridge, started scouting around town looking for places to plant them. The goal was to get them in the ground before winter.

So far, elms have been planted by Norway Brewing on Main Street, on Beal Street near the Fire Department, at the recreation field on Cottage Street, at the Parks & Recreation Department office and in the park area behind Fare Share Market.

When Lajoie designated two to be planted on Main Street at Guy E. Rowe School, it just made sense to open the project up to students to participate. Marsha Wood’s fourth grade class was invited to help plant the trees while at the same time incorporating a lesson on horticulture, history and community.

“As this will most likely be a first experience for many of my students, any learning opportunities in regards to the trees, the plantings, Main Street, Norway will come after this event,” Wood wrote in an email. Then the students will be better informed and better able to make connections as to what this is about in terms of past, present and future, she said.

The Rowe elms were planted Monday morning by Ryan Fox of Ryan Fox Lawncare & Landscaping in Norway, assisted by 20 young helpers.

“These trees are two or three years old,” Fox told students. “By the time they get as big around as other (trees at the school) you’ll all be grown, be out of college and have jobs. You’ll drive by and go ‘I remember planting that.'”

Students helped place the trees, straighten them in their holes, give them their first watering and cover them with topsoil as Fox showed them how to prep the root balls and told them how to to keep them healthy.

A few of the elm saplings will be overwintered until next spring, and Lajoie said there is enough donation money to purchase even more. Donations may still be left with or mailed to Lajoie at the Town Office on Danforth Street.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.