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Such groves were dominated by fire-resistant species of oak, and interspersed with hickory, ash, walnut, sugar maple and linden trees as well.
Prairie groves were quite hospitable to humans compared to the prairie itself, offering game and shelter, as well as respite from some of the discomforts of life in the open. They were preferred sites for American Indian villages, and the first places to be settled by Americans of European descent coming from the east.
One of the largest of these timbered areas in our region was named by settlers of the early nineteenth century the Big Grove.
As it was mapped in the original survey of the area in 1821, the Big Grove covered about 10 square miles. Its western edge roughly paralleled the Saline Branch, the stream that drops into Urbana from the north and runs through Busey Woods and Crystal Lake Park before turning east toward St. Joseph. Along its southern edge the Big Grove extended to about where Urbana’s Main Street runs today.
If you’re familiar with Urbana and the locales just north and east of the City, you know there’s no forest left that would merit the name, “Big Grove,” most of the wood from those trees having gone into houses, fences, farm implements and fires long ago.
But here’s something really cool. Some trees that began life in the Big Grove still stand today. You can touch them. Heck, you can hug them. They’re the kind of trees that elicit that response from people.
Near the corner of East Main and Maple Streets, a bur oak that predates the Declaration of Independence rises to a height of more than 80 feet from the yard outside Long’s Garage.
Greater numbers of oaks that predate European settlement can be seen—and hugged—at some other Urbana Park District sites. Some of the largest trees in Crystal Lake Park and Busey Woods are relics of the Big Grove, as are 10 or so of the trees at Weaver Park on East Main Street.