The Original Forest
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
Two hundred years ago, a great forest of deciduous trees covered what is now Wabash County. We have descriptions of these woods from diaries and journals of early settlers, but some of the best accounts of the original forest are found in the field notes of the first government surveyors who came through northern Indiana in the very early 1800s.
The magnificence of the forest that was here defies the imagination. Many kinds of trees grew across the area, and several species commonly reached heights of one hundred feet and more and attained diameters in excess of four feet.
The forest canopy was so dense that in some areas little undergrowth covered the ground. Streams and small watercourses threaded their way through the forest at frequent intervals, and here and there were clearings, most of which marked places where storms had taken down a number of giant trees.
It was into this scene that Wabash County’s settlers came and set about clearing the land. Tree by tree, acre by acre, and section by section these pioneer farmers removed the forest and planted the fields. They cut and burned thousands upon thousands of giant oak, maple, walnut, beech and sycamore trees. From these trees they fashioned cabins, fences and furniture, all the while slowly expanding the boundaries of their fields.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, only one grove of big trees remained in Wabash county. Huge trees were great curiosities by then, and so it was front-page news in the Wabash Plain Dealer in 1907 when lumbermen from E.L. Aukerman’s sawmill moved in on a group of giant walnut trees on the farms of George and Elmer Bowman in Waltz Township.
Ackerman declared the eighty-acre stand of big trees to be the last significant area of the original forest in our county. “This marks the passing of the big woods in Wabash County,” he said. “Five more years will about wind up the lumber business in the county. Trees of all kinds are disappearing quickly, and we cannot get large ones anymore. Poplar is almost gone and oak is growing scarce.”
Ackerman hauled the trees, shorn of their crowns and limbs, to his mill where they attracted large numbers of people who came to gaze at the last monarchs of the forest. One tree was of special interest. It was the largest of the first batch of trees taken from the Bowman farm, and it was described as bird’s-eye walnut with a grain similar to that of the more common bird’s-eye maple.
“Bird’s-eye walnut is very rare and worth about fifty times more than ordinary walnut,” said Ackerman. The wavy grain was widely used as veneer.