In 1975, The Conservationist published an article by John Nellis entitled “Giants in the Earth,” which listed the American Forestry Association’s Social Register of Big Trees. Among the giants on this list of national champions was a black locust tree owned by William Waise of Coeymans, New York. It boasted a trunk circumference of 20 feet 3 inches, a height of 74 feet, and a crown spread of 44 feet.
When George and Mary Weidman’s neighbor, the late Carl Senger, read the article, he went to the Weidman farm on Geiger Road in the Town of Ossian, Livingston County, to ask whether they had seen it.
“Yeah, what about it?” George recalls asking.
“Your black locust tree is a lot bigger than that one!” Carl responded. The two men measured the tree and sure enough, it was. A lot bigger! George notified The Conservationist of their discovery, and the magazine dispatched New York State Department of Environmental Conservation forester Billy Morris to investigate.
“God, it is bigger,” was the forester’s reaction when he measured the tree. Its trunk taped 23 feet 4 inches in circumference, with a height of 96 feet and a crown spread of 92 feet, making it 18 percent larger than the previous record holder, using the formula that calibrates big trees.
Black locust trees seldom live long enough to attain those proportions. It’s not that they are necessarily short-lived, although they are susceptible to storm and wind damage. Rather, they are usually planted – often in groves – to provide farmers with a ready supply of fence posts. The wood’s resistance to decay enables a black locust post to last 30 years or more in the ground, three times longer than cedar. Trees are usually harvested and split into posts when they have reached a trunk diameter of 12 inches or so.
At the time, Morris estimated that the Weidman locust was well over 100 years old and felt that it lasted so long because of its location in a protected hollow. It could be that the tree was planted around 1861 when Elias Geiger built the house that the Weidmans bought in 1952. However, George feels that the tree is closer to 200, predating the Geiger Homestead.
The giant tree occupies a prominent place in the Weidmans’ front yard, alongside another, somewhat smaller – but nonetheless impressive – black locust. About 6 feet above ground, the behemoth splits into twin trunks, one of which leans precariously to the southeast. The tree has survived an unknown number of catastrophes, including a 1935 barn fire, which left it badly scorched, and the devastating ice storm of 1991. A third large black locust, destroyed in that ice storm, was removed.
George’s concern for the health of the aging tree has prompted his exhaustive attempts to locate some public or private agency funding that could be used to stabilize and brace its weakening condition. It is unlikely that the tree will grow any larger, but sooner or later heavy snow or wind could take a toll. Despite its position on the National Register of Big Trees, no source of funding has yet been found. The tree survives at George Weidman’s expense.
Mary Weidman passed away in 1996, yet the giant locust continues to bloom each spring, filling the air with a sweet fragrance that seems to attract every honeybee within miles. Thousands of blossoms are alive with thousands of bees, each collecting a special brand of pollen for a very unique blend of honey. Some of the bees have even taken up residence in the Weidman barns.
George Weidman’s big tree has achieved its fair share of notoriety. Beginning with a pictorial in the Rochester Times-Union in 1975, the giant black locust has been featured in the Genesee Country Express, the Democrat and Chronicle, American Forests, even The New York Times.
The publicity resulted in fan mail, a note from a New York state senator, and even requests for seeds from a number of nurserymen. George has obliged and is pleased to collect seed pods whenever he’s asked. After all, he owns the biggest black locust tree in America. He says, “the world.” And since black locust only grows in the United States, technically – he’s right!
by John Adamski
John Adamski is a freelance writer who specializes in wildlife and outdoor subjects.