Historically linked: The twin sycamore trees of Sheraden

Updated: Sep 5, 2021



Photo by Tara Bailey
The iconic twin sycamore trees standing before the 1850s Bergman Street farmhouse were planted by horticulturalist William Sheraden Bockstoce, grandson of Sheraden neighborhood namesake WIlliam Sheraden.

-DID YOU KNOW?-


By Tara Bailey


→ Did you know about the conjoined twin sycamore trees on Bergman Street in Sheraden? These trees have been notable community icons since the late-1930s, when William Sheraden Bockstoce, the grandson of the community’s first homesteader and namesake William Sheraden, planted them. The white farmhouse that rests behind these majestic trees plays second fiddle in the years-long processions of prom, wedding and anniversary photos taken there.


Towering over the walkway of the white farmhouse, these twin sycamore trees coalesce as one arch over the property and welcome visitors to admire or take photos. But for longtime residents of Sheraden, it’s easy to unintentionally overlook and not fully appreciate the phenomenon.


Bergman Street homeowner Rhonda Cosby and her family have lived in Sheraden for decades. And like many Pittsburghers, they stick to their routines and the same well-traveled paths.


“I live on Bergman, and I haven’t been down that end of the street in probably 10 years,” said Cosby. “The only streets I drive on are Sheraden Boulevard or Chartiers Avenue. It’s a great historical tree and without doubt an awesome place to see, but some Sheraden residents, including myself, may not pay attention to them. So, I guess we do take living near the twin sycamores for granted.”


Former Bergman Street resident Darcia Reed feels similarly to Cosby. “I’m not too nostalgic about the twin sycamore trees,” said Reed. “I think they’re gorgeous, but would I make a special trip down the street to take a photo? Probably not. I grew up in the West Side, I lived on Bergman for years before moving to Middletown Road and I can count on one hand how many times I walked past and admired the sycamores. Just because I’m not in constant admiration of them, doesn’t mean that I don’t value its importance to the neighborhood. I think they’re a staple and long live the sycamores.”


While some Bergmanites can go years without passing the twin sycamores, other Sheraden residents make it a priority to make a weekly pilgrimage to the site. Marla James lives on Fairdale Street in Sheraden and drives by them weekly to take in their whimsical display.


“I love looking at the sycamores. Something about them captures my attention to the point where I can’t go a week without visiting them,” said James.


“They’re absolutely beautiful and I don’t understand how anyone could drive right past them and be oblivious to their beauty. Nevertheless, at least the community knows the twin sycamores are there.


→ Did you know Bockstoce intentionally grew the sycamore trees to unite the trunks? The twin sycamores were originally grown in two old-fashioned wash tubs, then placed on either side of the walkway, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette write up. The first efforts to create a doubled trunk were unsuccessful. To encourage the trees to grow together, Bockstoce then fastened the trees to a metal pipe and clothesline. When the two trunks were sturdy enough to remove the pipe structure and stand alone, the trees grew upward from the arch’s high point, united into one trunk.


→ Did you know sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis) are also called buttonwood or buttonball trees? Professional or amateur horticulturists can grow sycamores easily in any soil, but rich and deep soil is preferable. Sycamores have sturdy wood with several uses but also suffer from diseases. As sycamores grow older, a fungus may attack and consume the heartwood. The fungus may not kill the tree, but could make it weak and hollow. Sycamores may also cause incursion of water and sewer lines and damage pavement. From the outside looking in, the twin sycamores on Bergman Street appear to be intact and incursion free.



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