This is among the most hidden in plain sight of Litchfield markers.
Today, Litchfield residents who wish to spread news of an event hang flyers at Stop and Shop, the Oliver Wolcott Library, or the Post Office, or information posted on Litchfield.bz. In an earlier day, Litchfield’s residents hung notices on the Sign-Post Elm.
Litchfield had many distinguished elm trees. Brothers Oliver Wolcott Jr. and Frederick Wolcott planted many elms along North and South Streets. John C. Calhoun planted elms at the corner of West Street and Spencer Street and also on Prospect Street when he was a student at the Litchfield Law School. The ominously-named Whipping Post Elm stood in front of the jail at the corner of West and North Streets.; at 150 inches he reportedly had the greatest diameter of any elm in town. Second was the Beecher Elm at 146 ½ inches, at the site of the family home on the corner of North and Prospect Streets.
The Sign-Post Elm was not as big, but was, perhaps, of greater importance. For many years it stood at the corner of South and East Streets, in front of what is now the Litchfield Historical Society. It displayed the legal notices of the town, informed residents of town meetings, and hosted, under its branches, auctions and sheriff sales.
The marker for the sign-post elm is visible as the small stone-like object to the left of the telephone pole in this photograph.
While Dutch Elm Disease, which was first discovered in the 1920s, has devastated the mature elm trees of North America, the value which Americans of an earlier ascribed to the elm is indisputable. Litchfield native Henry Ward Beecher, in an 1856 account about returning to his hometown, wrote: “There were the old trees, but looking not so large as to our young eyes. The stately road had, however, been bereaved of the buttonball trees, which had been crippled by disease. But the old elms retained a habit particular to Litchfield. There seemed to be a current of wind which at times passes high up in the air over the town, and which moves the tops of the trees, while on the ground there is no movement of wind period. How vividly did that sound from above bring back early days, when for hours we lay upon the windless grass and watched the top leaves flutter and marked how still were the under leaves of the same tree!”