George Weikert Farm Tree

What the Tree Witnessed

Brigadier General William Barksdale’s brigade of Mississippians were having a field day mauling federal units on the evening of July 2, 1863. One of Barksdale’s regiments, the 21st MS, was now working its way east along the farm lane that is now United States Avenue. Having captured several Union cannon at the Trostle Farm, they next successfully captured the four guns of Lt. Malbone Watson’s Battery I (5th U.S. Artillery). But it was the end of the line for the exhausted 21st Mississippi, as the 39th New York infantry, led by Maj. Hugo Hildebrandt, recaptured the battery for the Army of the Potomac.


This tree was first photographically identified by Greg Gober, using the image appearing in Figure P-1 below.

Ranger T. Holbrook Witness Tree

Figure P-1: the Ranger T. Holbrook Witness Tree dominates the yard of the George Weikert House. The 1896 photo, taken by an otherwise unknown man, and apparent surgeon, named Van Devere, is published here courtesy of the Boardman Photographic Collection.

Tree Species: black walnut
Circumference 2022: 111”
Diameter: 35.4”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 5.3 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 185-190 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 5”
GPS: 39.801938 N, 77.235128 W

The lone-standing black walnut tree which dominates the backyard of the George Weikert house (i.e., the side facing United States Avenue) possesses a diameter of just under a full yard. In Figure P-1, we see a then-and-now view of the tree from the vantage point of United States Avenue. We have an easy job of comparing the tree as it stands today to its appearance in 1897, the year a surgeon by the name of Van Devere took this picture, because we can match up, with no effort, the stones of the house in the old and new images.

The ratio of the diameter of the tree 1897:2022 is exactly a third (0.33). A little math reveals that the tree has had an average growth rate of 5.3 years to grow each inch of diameter since the turn of the 20th century. Working backwards, we can estimate the age of the tree to be about 185 years; its diameter in 1863 at the time of the battle was likely about 5 inches.

Ranger Tom Holbrook on the right, with author in volunteer uniform.

This tree is named, not for a soldier of the Civil War, but rather for Gettysburg National Military Park Ranger Thomas Holbrook, who has lived in the Weikert house for almost three decades – longer than anyone has ever lived at this farmstead since it was first built in the early 18th century. In addition to his regular ranger duties at GNMP, Tom has also been in charge of the park’s Living History Program for more than two decades, and also presents the popular “If These Things Could Talk talk every winter as part of the park’s winter lecture series.

The tree’s name is meant to memorialize not just Tom, but all of the park rangers who have dedicated their lives to preserving the history at this greatest of National Military parks.

The George Weikert Farm is currently still a private residence. Please view the Holbrook Witness Tree from the main road, and do not walk on the grass to get a closer look.