The Freedom Valley Chronicles: A Tree Growing In Plymouth – Part One

A visit to a shopping mall today may mean buying a pair of shoes from a retailer, taking in a movie with buttered popcorn (knowing that it won’t help you with your diet), eating lunch with friends at a restaurant, doing your weekly grocery shopping, picking up a package you ordered online from Amazon, going to work at your office, playing arcade games with your buddy, or even spending time in quiet reflection at church.

You do all that today at the Plymouth Meeting Mall.

But you can also take some time to see how history unfolded in the Freedom Valley and in our nation by visiting the “A Tree Growing In Plymouth” display at the Plymouth Meeting Mall. The photograph at the top of this news article shows the display in December of 2017.

The display is located on the upper level of the Mall near the entrance between Bertucci’s Kitchen & Bar and Elevation Burger. The original location of the display was on the lower level of the Mall in front of the former Strawbridge and Clothier Department Store.

Prior to the construction of the Plymouth Meeting Mall, the site on Germantown Pike included 89 acres of nursery land. Meehan’s Nursery had operated in Plymouth Township for a number of years. The ground included trees that were more than twice the age of living human beings.

At that time, progress necessitated the removal of much of the vegetation and the tree growth from the property.

As a way to recognize the history of the area, a slice was cut from one of the trees – a tree that had been growing on the site since 1770. The age of the tree was determined by counting the rings within the cut. Science majors will tell you that for each year a tree is alive, a tree grows a new ring.

This sign provides some background on the “A Tree Growing In Plymouth” display at the Plymouth Meeting Mall.

Several historical events that occurred during the life of this specific tree are facts noted in the “A Tree Growing In Plymouth” display, including:

The Declaration of Independence for the United States was signed at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. The building is now known as “Independence Hall”.

Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships were two of the municipalities of northwest Philadelphia County that became founding municipalities of a separate Montgomery County in 1784.

In 1832, an iron mill, the forerunner of the Alan Wood Steel Company, began operations in Conshohocken.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike opened through Plymouth Meeting as the roadway was built from Valley Forge to the Delaware River in 1954.

A year later, in 1955, the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened between Plymouth Meeting and the Lehigh Valley.

In 1965, the construction of the Plymouth Meeting Mall began.

“In February of 1966, Plymouth Meeting Mall opened the first two-story enclosed mall in Pennsylvania on a site formerly known as Meehan’s Nursery,” stated Ms. Karisa Balestro, Marketing Manager of the Plymouth Meeting Mall. “To commemorate that event, a slice was cut from a tree that had been growing on the ground since 1770. Because trees grow new rings every year, we are able to look back and compare the growth of the tree with historical events.”

A few of the items in the display are in the process of being updated by the Mall.

In Part Two, we’ll highlight aerial photographs of the land that included the specific tree displayed in the “A Tree Growing In Plymouth” display and how the ground changed as a tree nursery became the Plymouth Meeting Mall.

(The top photo is provided courtesy of the Plymouth Meeting Mall, 2017)

Do you have questions about local history? A street name? A building?

Your questions may be used in a future news article.

Contact Richard McDonough at

© 2017 Richard McDonough