Witness Trees of Illinois

Submitted by Commissioner Suzi Myers 

Are you looking for something to do this fall? Have a cell phone? How about looking for a Witness Tree and verifying its existence?  

A Witness Tree a historic tree that has remained in place for decades or even centuries after noteworthy events as well as ordinary events have unfolded around it.  

During the 1800s when Europeans were settling into the United States, the federal government decided to do a survey of the land. The land was divided into 1-mile square sections, 36 of which made up a township. Crews would go out to survey and document the make-up of the land – if it was prairie, swamp, or such. They marked the boundaries of each section with a wooden stake pounded into the ground as a marker, and would   then find the closest tree and mark it with an ax slash. The crews would also designate a tree at the 1/2-mile mark along the boundary line. The species and size of each of the trees were also documented. Today these marked trees are called “Witness Trees.” 

In Will County, a documented Witness Tree still remains within the current Medwin Prairie area. Nearly 200 years ago, a surveyor named Daniel Miller drove a survey post into the prairie, marking the northwest corner of Section 14, Wilmington Township, Will County. He then measured the closest sturdy tree he could find. His field notes tell that he selected a White Oak, 20 inches in diameter. He marked it with his ax to note it was the boundary marker. The ax mark is gone, but the tree remains. This tree has been a witness to a lot of changes – the area has changed from prairie to farmland, then to an arsenal, and now back to a restored prairie. The documentation of the plants and trees found by Mr. Miller all those years ago have helped in the prairie restoration.  

If you’d like to see how you could join the search for local witness trees, you can find all the necessary information at: http://chicagorti.org/WitnessTrees.

Documented Witness Tree in Will County