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Push is on to preserve Constitution Elm

CORYDON, Ind. – State officials have started looking into ways to save what remains of a long-dead section of the giant elm tree that shaded delegates working on Indiana’s first constitution in 1816.

The trunk of the tree – dubbed Constitution Elm – is deteriorating from insect and weather damage inside the sandstone shelter that was built 12 years after it died from disease in 1925, The Courier-Journal reported Tuesday (

The live tree stood more than 50 feet high and spread 130 feet a few blocks from where the original state capitol building was erected in the southern Indiana town of Corydon. Historical accounts say 43 delegates from the Indiana Territory met under it in sweltering June heat to craft the constitutional documents.

At the urging of Corydon lawyer Marian Pearcy and members of the Hoosier Elm Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, state officials launched an effort last spring to examine the tree and develop a plan for preservation.

“Everybody’s goal is to save it for the state bicentennial in 2016,” said Bruce Beesley, vice president of state historical sites under the Indiana State Museum, which oversees the Corydon Capitol site.

Sometime after the tree’s death, perhaps in the 1960s, it was coated with black creosote – the substance used to preserve railroad ties and telephone poles. It’s also believed holes were drilled into the trunk to inject the preservative.

Use of the chemical compound has been restricted in recent years because it’s highly toxic and scientists have found exposure can cause cancer.

State officials hope to enlist a wood specialist, perhaps someone who has worked with American Indian totem poles, to examine it and make recommendations.

There’s no predicting when that will happen because “people who do this kind of thing can’t just drop everything” and come to Indiana, Beesley said.

Diane Cooper, owner of a spa and salon across the street from the site, said the elm is a part of the state’s history worth keeping.

“You can’t believe how many people stop by to see that,” Cooper said.

The state needs to devise more far-reaching plans, even if the wood can’t be saved, said Maryland Austin, a Corydon lawyer and DAR member.

“I feel certain there’s some way ... that a casting could be made, in bronze or something,” Austin said. “It should be preserved, perhaps in a more elegant state than it is today.”