The Endicott Pear Tree

Oldest Living Fruit Tree in North America

by Joseph D. Postman

During the Centennial Celebration in Danvers, Massachusetts in June 1852, the Endicott Pear Tree was heralded as "probably the oldest cultivated fruit bearing tree in New England." At that time the pear tree was over 200 years old! It had been planted by the first governor of Massachusetts, John Endicott. One hundred and fifty years have passed since that proclamation was made and the Endicott Pear Tree is still producing fruit. It is very unlikely that any other cultivated fruit tree in North America is as old. As I write this in August 2002, the Endicott Pear Tree is approximately 372 years old!

In the USDA Agriculture Yearbook for 1925, there is a report about "the remarkable fruit tree" in Danversport, Massachusetts. This report cites the memoir of Governor Endicott's descendant, Samuel Endicott, that the tree may have been planted in its present location in 1632, or it may have been transplanted from "Governor Endecott's garden in Salem." (The Governor's family name 'Endecott' was changed to 'Endicott' in the 1700s.) There is a good possibility that the tree came to Massachusetts from England on the ship Arbella in 1630.

The Endicott Pear Tree in 1920
The Endicott Pear Tree in May, 1920. Photo from the 1925 USDA Agriculture Yearbook, which had been furnished by William C. Endicott of Boston.
Endicott Pear Tree in 1997
Photo of the Endicott Pear Tree taken in 1997 by J. Postman

U.P. Hedrick wrote in "The Pears of New York" (1921) that the Endicott Pear Tree was very old and decayed as early as 1763, and that it was injured during a hurricane in 1804, again in 1815, and yet again in 1843. It had been protected by a fence for about 50 years when Hedrick wrote this account, and he estimated its height to be about 80 feet in the late 1800s. Root suckers bore fruit identical to the original tree, which proved to Hedrick that the Endicott Pear was a seedling and not a grafted tree. In 1934, when the tree was just over 300 years old, it was nearly demolished by another hurricane but again it re-grew from the twisted trunk. The tree had a run-in with vandals in 1964, who chopped off all the branches and cut the trunk off 6 feet above the ground. And again it re-sprouted. Today the tree is secured by a chain-link fence, on an inconspicuous plot of land hidden behind the large Osram Sylvania Company building on Endicott Street in Danvers.

The photo to the left shows the tree in July 1997, when scions were collected to propagate for the pear germplasm collection in Corvallis, Oregon. A clone of the Endicott Pear is now growing at the NCGR and is large enough to begin bearing fruit. The fruit is of no particular consequence, according to U.P. Hedrick. It is medium in size, unattractive, and coarse textured. But the cultivar has an impressive history and may have great genetic value in whatever traits have contributed to its great longevity.

August 5, 2002