American Chestnut Restoration
Wood from the American chestnut is central to Salem Board & Beam's furniture. This hardwood was once among the most abundant in New England and was used extensively by early settlers because of its availability and desirable physical properties.
At the turn of the last century, one in every four hardwoods in our forests was an American chestnut. The tree was an integral part of the landscape from Maine to Florida and west to the Ohio Valley. Not only did the trees provide nuts to nourish forest animals, chestnuts were an important food staple and cash crop for many families.
American chestnut trees with their straight-grain, imposing size (mature chestnuts averaged up to five feet in diameter, and routinely grew to one hundred feet, and were often straight and branch-free for 50 feet), and rot-resistance were ideal for a wide range of uses from telegraph poles and railroad ties to homes, barns and even fine furniture. Most barns and homes east of the Mississippi built from 1600 - 1900 were made from American chestnut.
Sadly, these amazing trees were wiped out by an Asian fungus in one of the last century's most destructive blights. The fungus was first discovered in New York City in 1904. Our native chestnut trees, unlike the Chinese chestnut, were not resistant to this infestation, so the disease spread quickly. Despite efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, blight-resistant strains with the properties of our native species could not be developed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture discontinued its efforts at cross breading in 1960. However, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has continued its work and, by applying recent developments in genetics and plant pathology, has planted promising trees that are at various stages of breeding. Their goal is to re-populate the forests with blight-resistant chestnut trees with the desirable traits of our native species.
As a member of the American Chestnut Foundation since 1997, Ken Salem supports their efforts. Ken was invited to speak at their Annual Meeting in 1998, because he is one of the few craftsmen in America today regularly using American chestnut. He has written articles for The Bark , the association's newsletter. To learn more about the American chestnut and the association's restoration efforts, visit http://www.acf.org .
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