Legislative Route 1 Sycamore Allée

A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the more unusual additions to the National Register of Historic Places is the Legislative Route 1 Sycamore Allée, running one mile north and south of Halifax, through Halifax and Reed Townships, in northern Dauphin County. (An allée is a French term for formally planted trees, shrubs, or hedges lining both sides of a walk or drive.) Planted in 1922, the allée is an important example of the theories of landscape architecture prevailing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The State Highway Department and the Department of Forestry planted the trees along present-day State Route 147 as a joint venture.

As recreational travel by automobile — motorcar touring in the parlance of the day — grew popular in the early twentieth century, the open road became a focal point of a rural beautification movement. Creators of the Legislative Route 1 Sycamore Allée followed the accepted practices of the period for planting and maintaining the trees, spacing them sixty feet apart so that each has an “opportunity to develop into its best proportions,” recommended as early as 1890 by Garden and Forest: A Journal of Horticulture, Landscape Art, and Forestry, founded in 1888 by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), landscape architect who designed Manhattan’s Central Park, and Charles S. Sargent (1841–1927), Harvard University aboriculture professor and director of the institution’s Arnold Arboretum. Landscape architects of the early twentieth century proscribed the planting of trees in long, straight rows. They also advocated the use of a single species because “the desired effect [would] be lost if the trees var[ied] in form or size, or expression, or rapidity of growth, or in the time putting forth their leaves or shedding them.” The Oriental plane, or sycamore, proved to be a popular choice. One writer described the sycamore as “an excellent street-tree” that “thrives in all the middle states.” Pennsylvania conservationist J. Horace McFarland (1859– 1947) characterized it as a “fine tree” in his 1904 Getting Acquainted with the Trees.

Of the approximately 536 sycamores planted in 1922 — an estimate based on historic aerial photographs — 310 remain, lining both sides of Route 147 south of Halifax and the east side of the highway north of the community. The area is comprised of gently sloping hills and open land dotted with residential and commercial buildings and structures. Records of the Department of Forestry indicate that foresters regularly inspected roadside plantings and replaced saplings as needed. Although the allée has been subjected to changes and loss of trees over the years, it retains sufficient integrity as a designed rural landscape intended to beautify a rural stretch of a roadway, meriting its inclusion in the National Register on February 7, 2007.