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Specimen Japanese Maple
at the Dodge Homestead

by Ross Lumpkin

Katherine Crean says this Japanese maple standing in front of the Dodge House overlooking the Mill Pond is the most beautiful tree in Port Washington. Full disclosure: as a Vice President of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, she may be biased. But it’s hard to argue with her in general and with those brilliant autumn shades of scarlet, yellow, and orange in particular.

Fall passed by so quickly this year that it seems like a bit of local history already, but in any season our Japanese maple is an especially elegant specimen. Its leaves - small, delicate, and crimson – have pointed lobes or leaflets that radiate from the base like fingers from a hand.  At 25 feet high and 35 feet wide, it is relatively large with a perfectly symmetrical crown.

Japanese Maples have been cultivated extensively in Japan, Korea, China, and now in the United States.  These days there are said to be 130 varieties in North America alone, which makes precise identification difficult for amateur tree huggers. Regardless, I have consulted a few trusted resources and am foolish enough to guess that ours is related to the subspecies Matsumurae.


Samuel Bowne Parsons started the ball rolling by importing Japanese maple seedlings in the early 1860s to his nursery in Flushing, located in the area of Kissena Park and Parsons Boulevard (named after him). Parsons was a noted horticulturist and landscape designer who worked closely with Olmstead and Vaux of Central Park fame. It is likely that our tree is descended from that nursery.  


Finally, our tree has an ideal location overlooking the Mill Pond, right in front of the historic Dodge House. We can thank Charles (Chip) Dodge and his wife Bessie for that. They were the sixth of the seven successive generations of the Dodge family who lived there since his great-great-great-great grandfather, Thomas, built the homestead in 1721. Chip was a builder and an athlete. He played baseball and was an excellent ice skater who put on a show when the Mill Pond froze over.


Since 1993, the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society has maintained the Thomas Dodge Homestead as a house-museum for the benefit of the community.  Come see the tree at our annual Spring Fling, and stay for a tour of the Dodge House. Katherine will be there in full colonial dress to lead tours, and I plan to be relaxing in the shade of my favorite tree.


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