In 1928, this huge sycamore was one of many measured in Gibson County in the Wabash River Bottom and was part of a heavily stocked hardwood forest. It measured 15 x 10 feet in diameter and was 160 feet in height.


Sycamore Land Trust was founded in 1990 by a group of volunteers from the Sassafras Audubon Society in Bloomington, Indiana. Across the country, the land trust movement was rapidly growing in the 1990s. The founders and earliest supporters included Tom Zeller, Moira Wedekind, Lucille Bertuccio, Dave Hudak, Henry Gray, Hank Huffman, Patti Pizzo, and Connie and Terry Marbach.

The first piece of land was donated in 1992, and by 1996 we had reached 244 acres protected. Over the years, we slowly acquired land and established criteria for strategic growth. A board decision in 2007 increased our coverage area to 26 counties in southern Indiana. We acquired our 100th property in 2017.

In 2000, the board of directors hired the organization’s first staff member. Christian Freitag was then a PhD student at IU and joined Sycamore as its Development Director. Over the years, the organization has grown to employ seven full-time staff and at least one college intern or graduate assistant. The generosity of donors has allowed us to start, maintain, or endow several key staff positions.

Christian left Sycamore in August, 2018 after 18 years with the organization to become the president and director of the Conservation Law Center. At that time, John Lawrence moved from his position as Assistant Director to serve as Interim Executive Director. In February 2019 the board of directors named John our new Executive Director. He has been on the staff of Sycamore since 2006.

In 2009, the Caldwell family donated their beautiful mid-century modern house to Sycamore to become its headquarters, Cedar Crest. Not only is the house a wonderful place to work every day, surrounded by trees and a seasonal creek at the bottom of steep hills; it also holds meaningful history for the local and national environmental movements. Lynton Keith Caldwell was a founder and professor of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was also the author of the National Environmental Policy Act, which he wrote from the desk where our executive director sits today.

Under Governor Mitch Daniels, the State of Indiana awarded Sycamore with a $1 million matching grant to purchase properties in the Beanblossom Creek Bicentennial Conservation Area. Since acquiring our first parcel there in 1999, Sycamore has concentrated on this important watershed. By 2017 Sycamore owned more than 1,200 acres in the area, thanks in big part to this generous grant and all the donors who stepped up to match those funds. Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve continues to be a flagship property for Sycamore.


Historical Significance of Natural Areas in Southern Indiana - In 1928, this huge sycamore was one of many measured in Gibson County in the Wabash River Bottom and was part of a heavily stocked hardwood forest. It measured 15 x 10 feet in diameter and was 160 feet in height.

Southern Indiana’s forests, hills, wetlands, prairies, birds, and other wildlife have been written about and photographed throughout history. How big do you suppose a sycamore can grow in southern Indiana? It boggles the mind, but these iconic trees once grew to 15 feet in diameter. Our sycamores rivaled sequoias in their majesty, as this photo from the early 1900s shows. You know how you get a 200-year-old tree that’s 15 feet across? You start with a 2-year-old tree that’s 15 millimeters across. And then you protect it.

In the late 1800’s, naturalist Robert Ridgway described the Lower Wabash Valley and photographed some of the magnificent trees still to be found there. His photographs (scroll down for more) and a letter describing them was sent to his colleague Charles C. Deam in 1919.

Ridgway writes, “Yes, although I have not been in Indiana on foot since 1890, I know that my old ‘stamping grounds’ have been completely transformed. In truth, it was knowledge of this fact, more than anything else, which induced me to establish my home here rather than at Mt. Carmel where I was born. The transformation is indeed more radical than could possibly be realized by anyone not familiar with the forests of the Wabash bottom as I knew them in the ‘seventies.’


Then there was scarcely a break from a little below Vincennes to near New Harmony, an exceedingly heavy virgin forest, some of the heaviest hardwood forest I have ever seen, covering almost the entire flood plain of the Wabash on the Indiana side. I am sending you some photographs, taken as late as 1888, showing the continuous character of those forests, though at the time the photographs were taken there had been considerable ‘culling’ of the best trees.”

Ridgway continues, “When it is considered that in the bottomland of the Lower Wabash all the conditions existed – deep, fertile, well-drained soils, with constant moisture, for the very best development of tree growth and that the stand (in the original forest) was so thick that the trees had to grow upward toward the sunlight, it is no wonder that many species grew to a height that seems impossible to some people. My estimate was that the tree top line of the virgin forest along the Lower Wabash was not less than 100 feet and it may have been as much as 120 feet. It was remarkably uniform, forming a practically straight, level line, with only here and there the dome-shaped top of some species which grew larger than most others, usually a sycamore, pecan, a Schneck’s Oak, or tulip tree, lied a little above the general level. One hundred feet high seems a marvelous height to many people; yet it is a fact that it doesn’t take very much of a tree to reach that height in a crowded forest.”

Robert Ridgway, 1850-1929

Robert Ridgway


Robert Ridgway, an American ornithologist, was born in Mount Carmel, Illinois in 1850. His interest in ornithology began at an early age as he observed and drew birds near his home. He struck up a correspondence with Spencer Baird, the assistant secretary at the Smithsonian Institute, who allowed Ridgway to come work with him—with a rent-free dormitory room as his only compensation. In 1874, Ridgway was appointed Smithsonian ornithologist and after Baird’s death in 1887, assumed his role as America’s leading professional ornithologist. Though Ridgway had only a high school education and an honorary master’s degree in science from Indiana University (as a sign of gratitude for supplying the university with bird specimens after their museum burned down), he was articulate and served as the Smithsonian’s representative for many years.

Ridgway wrote a monumental 6,000-page series of volumes on The Birds of North and Middle America. He also published one of the first and most important color systems for bird identification. Ornithologists all over the world continue to consult Ridgway’s color studies and books.

Charles C. Deam


Charles Deam was born in 1865 near Bluffton, Indiana. As a young man, he overworked himself in his pharmacy and developed health problems, so his doctor advised him to take long walks outdoors to relax. Little did the doctor know this would lead Deam to a passion more consuming than his drug store business. He developed a strong interest in botany and his “long walks” eventually took him to every township in Indiana to collect plant specimens. Deam served as Indiana’s first state forester (1909-1913) and authored books that are still referenced today, including Trees of Indiana (1911), Shrubs of Indiana (1924), Grasses of Indiana (1929) and Flora of Indiana (1940). Charles Deam by the Numbers: [Indiana townships visited: 1,016; Plant specimens collected: 78,000; New plant species discovered: 25; Plants bearing his name: 48; Recreation/wilderness areas bearing his name: 2]

  • Charles Deam by the Numbers:
  • Indiana townships visited: 1,016
  • Plant specimens collected: 78,000
  • New plant species discovered: 25
  • Plants bearing his name: 48
  • Recreation/wilderness areas bearing his name: 2