Philly gets money from DAR for semiquincentennial trees

Cynthia MacLeod, superintendent of Independence National Historical Park.

The rest of America will learn Wednesday what Philadelphia knows right now: The Daughters of the American Revolution is making a $380,000 donation to America’s 2026 semiquincentennial marking the nation’s 250th birthday.

“This is the first patriotic donation to the country” for the event, according to Jon Grabelle Hermann, executive director of USA250, the based-in-Philly nonprofit that is organizing plans for the national celebration.

The DAR donation will be in the form of 76 trees, the quantity being symbolic of, well, you know what. They will be planted in and around Independence National Historical Park, known as the most historic square mile in America.

The genesis of the gift had two parts, I’m told by Lynn Forney Young, DAR honorary president general and a member of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission.

Andrew Hohns

One was a conversation with Philadelphian Andrew Hohns, volunteer chairman of the board of USA250 and also a commission member, about how the DAR could partner with the planning group. The other part was knowing the DAR had paid for the planting of 13 trees in the national park for the 1926 Sesquicentennial.

“We realized some of those were maturing and aged and needed replacement,” Young says.

The $380,000 amount, and the type of trees that will be planted, will be in the hands of park superintendent Cynthia MacLeod, with whom Young visited in April while taking a tour with Hohns.

The idea of planting trees appealed to Young.

DAR honorary president general Lynn Forney Young

“It’s a form of hope,” she says, “and young people can see these trees grow as they grow.” They are intended to remind us of “the men and women who are responsible for American independence,” and they tie in with the idea of conservation.

Trees are a symbol of life and strength, they manufacture oxygen for us and provide a home for birds and other critters. They are pleasing to the eye. There’s a lot to like.

During the April tour, Young got to see the Rose Garden, which was donated by the DAR in 1971. It is owned by the National Park Service and located between Locust and Walnut Streets between Fourth and Fifth.

The understanding was that the Park Service would maintain it, but penny-pinching budgets made that difficult and the local DAR chapter occasionally comes out to do what it can.

Funds are always scarce and “the Park Service has long thrived on the generosity of donors,” says MacLeod. (For the Bicentennial, the DAR paid for the restoration of the second floor of Independence Hall, including pricey furnishings.)

The DAR gift of 76 trees, which will be announced Wednesday night, was so recent that MacLeod says she hasn’t decided where all the trees will be placed, but knows that some will be “street trees,” replacing “empty spaces and stumps” along the curb line. Some will be planted in Washington Square, which is part of the national park.

Who will do the actual work “is a question we will ask ourselves.” Some work will be done by park staff, other work will be contracted out.

MacLeod promises “a full variety of trees, some flowering, some majestic oaks,” perhaps dogwood and sycamores as well.

The trees will be planted over three years so that when 2026 arrives, along with many Americans, they will no longer be saplings.

She expressed “deep appreciation” to the DAR “for planning ahead, it’s just a wonderful thing.”

To the extent that anyone gets credit, USA250 brought together DAR and the Park Service.

“We are a facilitator for a national discussion and identifying actors, individuals and organizations who want to get involved with the national conversation” about the semiquincentennial, says executive director Hermann.

“The only limit is our imagination.”

Our nation’s birth certificate was written in Philadelphia in 1776 in the sunshine of July. In 2026, people coming here to celebrate will find comfort in the shade of 76 new trees.