A “HISTORIC TREE” sign on City Avenue in Overbrook that points to nowhere has stumped motorists and pedestrians for decades, but thanks to inquiries from readers who were pining for an answer, we finally got to the root of the problem.
The tree no longer exists. And nobody knows what happened to it.
The Inquirer’s Curious Philly platform received questions this year about the faded road sign on City Avenue pointing down 71st Street, which features a drawing of the Liberty Bell, some leaves, and the words “HISTORIC TREE.”
While the arrow below the sign clearly points down 71st Street, there are no further directions or markers. There are plenty of trees on 71st Street — tall ones and scraggly ones, and one with a tiny plastic sign requesting that dogs do their business elsewhere — but there’s nothing to indicate any of them are special or historic.
It’s enough to leave one very confused.
And, it turns out, that’s been the case for decades. Questions about the sign seem to be evergreen, as The Inquirer was fielding them as far back as 1994, according to our archives.
In 1994, The Inquirer reported that the sign was erected during the Bicentennial Celebration by the “International Society of Arbora Culture,” which identified eight or nine trees that were so old they were around when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
“Then they put up signs at the nearest major intersection, but that’s all. You are on your own after that,” wrote reporter John Corr.
A few days later, Corr reported that a reader informed him the tree was in Morris Park on 71st Street but it was not very large and “some of its limbs are being held up by cables.”
Alain Joinville, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department, said in an email that the Fairmount Park Commission installed multiple historic tree signs during the Bicentennial Celebration to mark trees that were alive in 1776.
The one on City Avenue was for an American hackberry believed to be about 230 years old. It was 44 inches in diameter and 80 feet high, with limbs that spread out 60 feet, “in its heyday," Joinville wrote.
“Unfortunately, the tree is no longer there and we are not sure when it was removed,” he said.
In 1991, the Daily News ran a list of the six “historic trees” that were part of Fairmount Park’s Bicentennial project that were still alive, and listed the hackberry off City Avenue as one of them. The short article said most of the historic tree markers had already disappeared.
So why does the one on City Avenue remain if the tree is gone?
“Our staff plans to remove the sign in the very near future,” Joinville said.