Former Hannibal man planted North Main Street sweet gum trees.

When the Hannibal Parks & Recreation Department authorized the removal of two sweet gum trees from North Main Street in early December, nothing was known about who planted them and when they were planted. The mystery of who planted the trees was solved last week when Jim Crowell and his wife, Jane, paid a visit to America’s Hometown.
Crowell, who now lives in Virginia Beach, Va., started Grand View Nursery in the mid 1970s after joining his parents in Hannibal following his 1973 discharge from the U.S. Navy. It was at about that time that he planted the sweet gums at the eastern end of the public parking lot in the street’s 300 block.
“I don’t remember who we went through but it seems like somebody asked me to do that project,” he said. “I’m not even certain if I got paid for it or if it was a donation. I remember planting two trees, one on each side of that park, and some shrubs.”
While anyone who ever rolled an ankle on one of the trees’ “fruit” balls probably questioned the wisdom of planting sweet gums downtown, according to Crowell it made sense at the time.
“Sweet gums were real popular in this area. They were easy to grow and grew fairly rapidly, probably 3-foot a year, so it was easy for growers to grow those,” he said. “They were very vertical growing instead of wide. If we had planted a maple tree that would have probably taken up maybe 40 to 60 feet across. That sweet gum was probably 60 feet tall at maturity and probably only 25 or 30 feet (wide), so only half the width. I’m suggesting that’s why somebody chose that.”
Crowell admits being surprised to learn the sweet gums were still healthy and thriving when they were removed.
“That’s a kind of a harsh environment. During the summertime it’s very hot and in the wintertime it’s very cold,” he said. “Probably because the buildings were two- to three-story buildings that protected them from certain winds that might possibly hurt them. They were in good soil and protected.”
Crowell only learned Friday that the trees had been removed. He took the news in stride.
“My gosh that would have been almost 35 years ago when those trees were planted. That’s a long time. But everything has its life,” he said. “It’s interesting that trees which were only 6 to 8 feet when they were planted would grow that long and end up being that big. I guess they shaded that street and shaded that little park.”
The removal of the two sweet gums is part of a $30,000 renovation of that area, according to Andy Dorian, director of the Parks & Recreation Department.
“We thought while they were doing this (sidewalk replacement) and we were redoing the Jake Beckley site, we might as well redo the whole thing and get some trees in here that are a little bit better suited for a sidewalk,” said Dorian, noting that the sweet gum balls had been a source of complaints for years.
“There are better (tree) choices now that do not drop gum balls,” said Crowell, who has been involved in the planting of over 6,000 trees and plants in Virginia Beach.