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One man's preserve.

Soon after you swing off Route 95 in central Maine and head east across the Stillwater River, you'll see a sign on your right that reads: "Welcome to Old Town-Est. 1840."

Four years before Old Town's founding, Joseph Sewall's great-grandfather built his home where the road begins its gentle slide down to the town's main street. The 2,000-acre Sewall farm was a mixture of cleared fields and a vigorous forest of hardwoods and conifers.

Joe Sewall lives in that large, sturdy home and cares for it with the same reverential sense of place that he gives to the farm. But Sewall is a farmer only for those few hours when he finds time away from his responsibilities as chairman of the Sewall Company, one of New England's leading forestry consulting firms. A flier during World War II, Sewall pioneered many of the aerial photography techniques that have kept the company among the best in its field.

Because the firm's offices are just down the hill from his great-grandfather's house, Joe Sewall finds more time than many chief executives would to oversee the stewardship of his family land. In the 1930s, some 1,500 acres were transferred to the federal government, which leased them to the University of Maine. Now known as the University Forest, the former Sewall's Woods have become a training ground for the nation's future foresters.

Some 15 acres of Sewall's Woods remain, standing tall and strong as one of the few privately owned woods in Maine with hardwoods and conifers dating back before 1840. "When I was about 10 years old," says Sewall, who is also the only person who has ever served four terms as president of the Maine Senate, "my father hitched one of the horses to a sleigh and took me with him to get fireplace logs from a big white birch that had come down in a storm. These trees have given a lot to our family, for more than 150 years," he adds.

On a walk padded by conifer needles and hardwood leaves, we pass Norway spruce, hemlock, red pine, cedar, birch, white oak and red oak, beech, white ash, and the king of the forest, the eastern white pine. Rising 80 to 100 feet and more from the forest floor, the white pines' clear, straight columns are topped by feathery plumes of green that catch the gold of an early morning sun.

"Some of these pines are 200 years old," says Sewall.

They were here when my great-grandfather built the house. As each generation came along, the notion that this part of the woods should be kept in its natural state gathered more and more authority."

Forester Ted Tryon, employed by the Sewall Company since 1940, is charged with the care of this exceptional 15 acres. "I wouldn't want to make the claim without some checking," he says with typical Yankee restraint, "but I'm sure there aren't many forests in the state as old as this one. There are very few that include each of the different species growing as they do in their natural state.'

He adds that he made a timber survey of these woods a year ago and came up with 61 cords per acre. "That's about four times the average for most of the Maine woods. One of the benefits of preserving a forest as old as this is the maintenance of genetic strength and integrity. On commercial lands, the tendency has been for harvesters to high-grade their timber-take the very best trees and leave the poor ones. After a while, you end up with all poor ones.

As Joe Sewall heads back to the house, he says, "The eastern white pine lives 300 years or more. Most of these have another century to go. I've arranged to have the company look after them. I want to do everything that can be done to make certain they live out their full lives here. "
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Title Annotation:Joe Sewall's woodlot in Maine
Author:Cole, John N.
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:column
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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