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Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Blight Commission Photographs collection, 1913.


This collection documents the effects that chestnut blight, also known as chestnut tree bark disease, had on chestnut trees throughout Pennsylvania. The photos of primarily diseased chestnut trees were taken by the Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Blight Commission ca. 1912 and 1913.


  • 1912-1913

Terms of Access

Researchers seeking to examine archival materials are strongly encouraged to make an appointment. The Director, or an office of origin, may place restrictions on the use of some or all of its records. The extent and length of the restriction will be determined by the Director, office of origin, and the Archivist and will be enforced equally for all researchers.

Terms of Use

The copyright is held by The President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Arnold Arboretum Archives of Harvard University. The copyright on some materials in the collection may be held by the original author or the author's heirs or assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining written permission from the holder(s) of copyright and the Arnold Arboretum Archives prior to publishing any quotations or images from materials in this collection.

Photocopies may be made at the discretion of the Arnold Arboretum Archives staff. Permission to make photocopies does not constitute permission to reproduce or publish materials outside the bounds of the fair use guidelines.


1 boxes

This collection documents the findings of the Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Blight Commission through a series of images that were taken ca. 1912-1913 as part of a survey of Pennsylvania’s trees. Photographs of trees being felled and milled and sketches of the blight-causing fungus are included as well. The images were removed from a photo album that was given to the Arnold Arboretum by Winthrop Sargent, chair of the commission, and demonstrate the effects and extent of the blight in Pennsylvania.

Materials include photographs, which are maintained in their original order, and a bound photocopy of the photo album.

Photographers are indicated where known, and estimated dates are included where possible.

Historical Note

This collection documents the effects that chestnut blight, also known as chestnut tree bark disease, had on chestnut trees throughout Pennsylvania. Introduced in the United States in the early 20th century, the first signs of the fungus were discovered in New York City in 1904, and by 1912 it was observed in points as far apart as eastern Massachusetts and northern Virginia. Concern over the destruction of trees and subsequent effects to state and local economies led to a conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that was held on February 20 and 21, 1912, and was called by John K. Tener (1863-1946), who was governor of Pennsylvania from 1911 to 1915. Chestnut trees were used to make tannic acid (used in tanning), telegraph and telephone poles, and railroad ties, and chestnuts themselves were harvested for consumption, so a shortage of the trees was not insignificant.

The Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Blight Commission, also known as the Pennsylvania Chestnut Blight Commission, was commissioned by Tener to stop the spread of chestnut blight and eradicate the disease in the western part of the state (approximately 6.5 million acres of woodland). With the June 1911 bill that established the commission, he committed $275,000 to its efforts to stop the blight from moving west. Mark Alfred Carlton managed the project, sending two hundred field agents to inspect trees in western counties; in eastern counties, tree surgeons advised homeowners on ways to save their ornamental chestnut trees from blight. In the west, over 50,000 infected trees were destroyed. In the east, the diseased portions of trees were removed and the resulting wounds covered with creosote. The commission disbanded in August of 1913 after requests for another $275,000 were denied.

Winthrop Sargent (August 18, 1853-March 29, 1932) served as chairman of the commission during its brief existence. A cousin of Arnold Arboretum director Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927) and painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), he was a Pennsylvania native. During his lifetime he was involved in various industries, including the railroad, paint, cement, and coal. While he helped lead the effort to save Pennsylvania’s chestnut trees, he was concerned with other forms of preservation as well; Sargent was instrumental in preserving an ancestor’s Revolutionary War-era home in Gloucester, MA, and he published Epes Sargent of Gloucester and His Descendants, an extensive family genealogy, in 1923.


The Pennsylvania – Chestnut Tree Blight Commission, Collection of Photographs is arranged into 2 series. Note: Photographs are kept in the order in which they appeared in the original album and are identified by the original caption. The numbering system of the images reflects their original order. Images are first identified by page number (1, 1.a, 2, etc.). Where there were multiple images on one page that had the same caption, only the page number is used to identify both. Where multiple images on a page had different captions, the images are identified by the page number and whether they were located on the right or left side of the page.

  1. Series I: Images
  2. Series II: Photo Album Copy

Physical Location

Archives. VI CBC

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Provenance: This collection was the gift of Winthrop Sargent (1853-1932), chairman of the Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Blight Commission. The photographs were removed from a deteriorating album and rehoused in plastic sleeves after being photocopied on their original pages. The photocopies were bound and now are part of the collection.

General note

Access to Finding Aid record in HOLLIS.

Processing Information

Alison Kobierski October 2011.

Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Blight Commission Photographs collection, 1913.
The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Arnold Arboretum Archives Repository

The Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library is a specialized collection devoted to the study of temperate woody plants. We collect works on botany, horticulture, floras, urban forestry and taxonomy. The library contains more than 25,000 volumes and 40,000 photographs, and includes an archive that both documents the Arboretum's history and is a repository for 19th, 20th, and 21st century horticultural and botanical collections.

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