When European settlers reached North America, the American chestnut was arguably the most important tree in the country. From the Adirondacks to southern Appalachia, chestnuts fed people, livestock, and wildlife. The tree produced lumber of both high quality and tremendous volume. Then, in 1904, a single tree arrived in New York City that carried a blight lethal to chestnuts. The disease tore through the eastern United States like a tsunami, and by the early 1950's, the American chestnut was nearly extinct.