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The Big Elm Burns NY

The view is to the east on Main St. over the Canaseraga Creek. The tree was cut down in 1900.


The Big Elm

Stately it stood, majestic, landmark for the locality through more than half of its recorded history. Great boughs shading both land and water, The Big Elm towered above the west bank of the Canaseraga Creek near what would one day become the principal artery of the village. It held sway against the sky before the white man came, a link between ancient ways and the new. Legend has it that an aboriginal princess of the valley used to swing her hammock from one of its branches, chanting lullabies to a drowsy papoose while the proud warrior father fished in the creek or basked in the sun nearby.

War came between Redcoats and Colonials. Westernmost tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy—the greatest coalition of Indian tribes ever put together in North America—and lords of the Canaseraga and far beyond, the Seneca cast their lot with the British. Banishment was ultimately the price they paid. When the Seneca withdrew white men came. But The Big Elm remained.

And grew. By 1885, 80 years after the first log cabins were erected in the valley, the Sacred Elm of the Canaseraga measured 14 feet 5 inches in girth at a point a few feet above ground and 16 feet at the base. All life and history are flux and change, even as the creek is never the same one ripple to the next. The year before the bough from which the Indian princess rocked her papoose in the lazy afternoon hours was removed when men spanned the creek with a new iron bridge.

Shortly thereafter The Big Elm yielded all to the vagaries of change. Full of years, more than 100, and of memories beyond measure the giant tree was felled on July 21, 1900. Still the waters wend where the elm once stood and with them time, and there is yet a larger story to be told.

Excerpted from: Burns Bicentennial & Sesquicentennial Booklet, originally published by the Canaseraga-Town of Burns Sesquicentennial Bicentennial Committee formed September 1975.

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