This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
I had heard from a friend, of the old, original accidental seedling, the parent stock of all of that ilk extant, and the story gradually infected my imagination. It began to haunt me. I saw it - "In my mind's eye, Horatio," standing like a sentinel down there in " The Neck " among the dikes and ditches; living through slow and patient history; watching through its " two hundred years," so the story goes, and listening to the hum and stir of distant life in the Quaker metropolis, and the growing traffic of the two rivers that washed the meadow's foot more than one hundred and fifty years from this 31st day of July, 1880.
" More than one hundred and fifty years ago" - say the " Neckers" - the first dike was thrown up to reclaim the meadows on which they and their fathers' fathers have lived and moved and had their being; fighting the waves at spring tides, and the rheumatiz' more at their leisure; but never much troubled with a dry time, even though there be but a fraction of an inch of rainfall in a month, or a whole dry summer never so long.
It is a fat land down there, and has its blessings and its drawbacks like other places. A hardy race grows and thrives, and feeds others out of the rich alluvial, but lays its bones away on higher ground, for water is a sore decayer of your whorson dead body".
THE ORIGINAL SECKEL PEAR TREE.
Photographed and Engraved expressly for The Gardenek's Monthly.
Copyrighted 1880, by CHAS. H. Makot, Publisher, Phila.
And so they lay them down at last, on green and gravelly slopes, afar from the music of the singing birds of their household groves; and so their sons and sons' sons have come and warmed the old homes and kept the old names and mansions awhile in the meadows, and then followed on to the narrow house in the higher ground. But this is wandering from the old Pear tree. That, I had some trouble to find, of which more anon.
The " facts" above stated, expressed more in the local vernacular, I had from an old Necker, who did not dream himself, but set his listener dreaming.
Who munched the pear, and thoughtlessly dropped the core over the side of what vessel, as she passed the "Back Channel? And when? It must have been between 1682 and 1720; for that core floated to fast land, seeded and inaugurated its celebrated distinct variety far inside the old dike that more than one hundred and fifty years ago first barred back the waters from their accustomed fiats. May it not as likely have been in the first named year as at any time in the interval between that and the latter? For what is thirty-eight years, more or less, in the life of a pear tree, whose " more than one hundred and fifty years" have to-day been resolved out of its indefinite past? And who shall say it was not Penn himself, as likely as any of his fellow-voyagers, - or as those in the few following years, - who cast overboard the unconscious seed of the land-mark of the two centuries then to come?
Up to the day noted in the first paragraph, I had never seen the object of my lately awakened enthusiasm. Nothing would do until I could set eyes on it, if yet standing; and if not, alas what had I thoughtlessly neglected, for a lifetime! My friend had described it as "still standing fifteen years ago, but with one-half decayed off the trunk, the balance a mere shell, supported by props, and piously guarded with posts and rails," ready to fall and pass away forever. He gave me a verbal notion of the direction and distance, relying more upon a reference for particulars to his description of his own visit published long ago in the Gardener's Monthly. Neglecting this at the time, I was not aware of its more particular reference to exact locality.
His interesting article is well worth reading, and will be found in vol. 7, page 44, Feb. 1865.
I had, therefore, a loose notion of the general locality, comprising, perhaps, a couple of square miles, anywhere within which it might be, and over which I might have to roam vaguely and guessingly. In that area there were, possibly, many descendants of the old patriarch pear, themselves aged; and one might risk being sentimental over some decayed sample of several generations later than the real, simon-pure-great-great-grandfather of them all. My friend's verbal directions were months old, and, refracted by my own unsafe keeping, were, as a guide, about as reliable as young Launcelot's directions to Old Gobbo.
" Old Gobbo - Master young gentleman, I pray you which is the way to Master Jew's?
Launcelot - Turn up on your right hand, at the next turning, but at the next turning of all, on your left; - marry, at the very next turning turn of no hand, but turn down indirectly to the Jew's house".
Thus prepared (?) for the search, I started for it overland, on the hottest day of this hottest of Julys; but was driven back by the heat, fatigue and uncertainty of location, reinforced by growing lateness of the hour. So on the last day of July I tried my second parallel, and attempted to flank the position by water, taking the little steamer at foot of Chestnut street, Schuylkill. Making a demoralized landing at a rotten, half burnt, plankless oil wharf, I reached land by perilous gymnastics over the tops of bare wharf piles, and formed again in good order. But a Necker's " half mile" is a full mile and a half. I walked to and fro four miles, prospecting around, and brought up at a country hotel on the " Old Pope Ferry Road," corner of a lane. Reader, don't try my route, but take the one I found, out since. It is very simple. A stage from Peter Wright & Sons, 307 Walnut street, goes all the way twice a day, passing this point; fare 75 cts. round trip. And so cut your eye teeth on my experience.
It is easier.
A busy ostler was sponging a critter at a trough. We had a talk. ■
Jafet - How long have you lived in these parts?
Ostler - Boy an' man, all my life, - some forty year.
Jafet - Then perhaps you know of a very old pear tree somewhere in this region.
Ostler - The old Seckel d'ye mean ! Know it? I sh'd think I orter; many's the pear I've had oft'n it too. D'ye see that lane right wher' yer standin'? That big yaller house down ther's John Bastian's, and he has the old Seckel, if't has'nt blowed over. But stop, mister, tha' don't ripen jist yit, if that's wot yer goin' fer.
To think I should reach Mecca in this unsentimental way, and not on a cloud, or the back of a camel!
I found Mr. Bastian sitting on his porch. He received me very kindly, and directed me to the identical spot. Sure enough, there stood the ancient of days and its surroundings, " the old stone house, the sloping meadow and the ditch." Eureka!
The half trunk was a mere shell when Mr. Bastian first knew it forty years ago, and he says it was "much the same as now." At least half the circumference is gone. At 3 feet 6 inches from the ground, it measures 5 feet 4£ inches around the half trunk and across the exposed diameter. The diameter, from bark to bark is 23 1/2 inches. I estimate the full circumference when whole and sound, as having been at least 6 feet 6 inches, 3 1/2 feet from the ground. The fraction of all that remains of the old storm-beaten, ancestral Seckel Pear is 26 feet in height. It had about one peck of pears, when I saw it.
The old stone house must be one hundred and fifty years old. It is of one story and attic, and the walls are like a fort in thickness. Mr. Bastian now lives in his more commodious mansion near by on a rising ground. His son, who was born in the old stone homestead, lives there now with his family. There are many very old homesteads all through the Neck. They are perhaps, with the exception of the old Swedes Church, among the oldest buildings remaining in the city. Mr. Bastian has owned the old Seckel farm forty years. At the time he moved there the late Thomas P. Cope told him that the Seckel family had known the old tree for eighty years. Eighty plus forty makes one hundred and twenty years to begin on. Perhaps some one reading this article can furnish data of an earlier experience, going backward from the year 1760, which this gives us, - and so verify the tradition of " more than one hundred and fifty years and perhaps two hundred".
There are few who eat a Seckel pear but feel a sort of gratitude to the originators for the delicious morsel, and a natural desire to know all possible about its origin. A correspondent favors us with a sketch of the original tree, and an account of his pilgrimage to the place of its birth, which we are sure will be read with great interest. Our publisher has had the old seckel pear tree photographed, and an engraving made from it for this number.
Mr. C. B. Rogers, Philadelphia, writes: " I do not believe you have the history of ' the oldest Seckel Pear Tree.' I know of one that is old enough to be grandfather to yours; it is standing on a farm on the Bancocas, about two miles from Mount Holly, on ground formerly an Indian camp. One hundred years ago it was very much decayed, and the top broken off about twelve or fourteen feet high, and I have good authority that it remained in that state for one hundred years. I will wager a ginger-cake that I can show the father of the Seckel pear".
[All right, good friend, hurry up the proofs. There is another competitor with you near Hat-boro, Montgomery Co., Penn., as we are informed. There is one point especially you will do well to investigate, namely. The tree we have illustrated grows on the property of the Seckel family, purchased by Girard many years ago. You will see by Watson's Annals of Philadelphia, that this fruit has been known as the Seckel by thousands on thousands of Philadelphians for nearly a century. How came the Jersey people to let the Seckel family have the honor of the name all these many years? Did the Seckels own the Indian camp also?
N. B. - We prefer those broad thin ginger-cakes that have spice like the Seckel Pear. - Ed. G. M].
We were regaled recently by a few pears from the original Seckel tree, by the kindness of the present lessees, Messrs. John and Samuel Bastian. They were not as large as the tree has given in its younger days, but were as delicious as ever. We may further note that the land on which the old Seckel Pear stands, belongs to the Girard estate, held by the City of Philadelphia, and not by the gentleman named by our correspondent.