Before GPS, before satellites, before Google maps and a city filled with a million people, San Jose was little more than a pioneer outpost. In the 1840s, as wagon trains crested the Sunol Grade, they caught a glimpse of a massive tree in the distance — the signal that they had finally reached San Jose. The Sentinel sycamore was over 100 feet tall and about 20 inches in diameter. Over the years, a residential neighborhood grew up around the tree. By 2000, its canopy was so large that it threatened the homes underneath.
Arborists found the tree to be hollowed with disease, and in March 2000, neighbors gathered around to say goodbye as the tree was cut down. Local gardeners gathered cuttings in hopes of saving this piece of living history. In January, one of the only surviving clones was planted in San Jose’s History Park.
Right now, it looks like a scrawny sapling. But in 20, 50, 100 years — if all goes well — it will rival its 300-year-old forebear.