|In the 1930s, when Robert R. McCormick expanded his Cantigny home with spacious east and west wings, he applied an equally grand idea to the mansion’s southern landscape. An avenue or “allée” was planted: two parallel rows of American Elms stretching south toward what is now the golf course.
Unfortunately, Dutch Elm Disease, a fungal disease spread by elm bark beetles, would devastate the allée plantings starting around 1960. Today, only one elm remains—a massive, classically shaped sentry on the allée’s south end. The landmark was carefully protected during Project New Leaf construction.
The dead or dying elms were replaced in the 1970s by Silver Maples and other species, with additional rows of trees added to the allée’s flanks.
One of the many goals of Project New Leaf was to restore the McCormick Allée to its original integrity and visual purpose. That process began rather jarringly in 2019, with the removal of existing trees. Understandably, some Cantigny Park visitors were concerned.
Now the vision of Cantigny Horticulture and Sasaki Associates, the project’s design consultant, is coming into focus. By opening the center of the allée, from McCormick House southward, the connection between the historic home and the landscape is strengthened. It’s yet another example of how Project New Leaf is enhancing sightlines throughout the park.
In mid-May, a planting crew from Damgaard Landscape installed 31 London Planes in two rows. The rows align precisely with the outside columns of McCormick House’s south porch and with the Catalpa trees that line the entrance of Cantigny Golf. The specimens were hand selected by Cantigny Horticulture’s Craig Kruckenberg and Chris Roberts during a visit to Hinsdale Nursery.
London Plane, related to American Sycamore, was chosen primarily for its picturesque branching pattern and extreme hardiness. It is a favorite of large European estates where allées similar to Cantigny’s have experienced several renewals over life spans of three to five hundred years.
The new trees are about 15 feet tall with trunks 10 inches in circumference. They should grow to be 100 feet tall with trunks 10 feet around. Expected vertical growth is 3 to 4 feet annually.
Over time, Cantigny Horticulture and Sasaki believe the London Planes will deliver the majestic uniformity and visual importance that define a well-planned allée.
You may wonder, why 31 trees? Why the odd number? The allée’s 32nd member is the old elm that McCormick himself surely rode past on horseback hundreds of times. The historic tree, like the allée itself, is part of the Colonel’s living legacy.