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Middle-aged Janesville natives might remember the elm-canopied streets in the city's older neighborhoods.

That leafy roof of elm trees made the streets 10 degrees cooler in summer. Today, tar and concrete absorb the heat and reflect it back into the air.

Between 1956 and 1976, Janesville lost thousands of trees to Dutch elm disease, which is caused by a fungus spread by elm bark beetles. In an Aug. 25, 1966, story in the Janesville Daily Gazette, Steve Buggs reported that nearly two-third of the city’s elms had died since 1956. The remaining third—about 6,700— probably would be lost, too, unless a solution was found.

In 1956, city crews began spraying elm trees with the chemical DDT. As a result, robins dropped dead all over the city. The killer was earthworms with DDT on their skin.

In 1970, the newspaper reported that the city had lost 1,965 trees that year, compared to 1,423 in 1969. Courthouse Park lost all of its elms that year.

In 1975, more than 2,000 elm trees died.

In 1989, officials responded to a resurgence of the disease. However, they said it was unlikely to affect Janesville because “you could count the number of elm trees left on one hand.”


This photo, taken in 1968, shows the 300 block of North Palm Street in Janesville before Dutch elm disease killed almost all the trees on the street.


This photo, taken in late 1973, shows the 300 block of North Palm Street when Dutch elm disease was hitting its stride.


This photo, taken on Aug. 1, 2019, shows the 300 block of North Palm Street today.


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