A 194-year-old apple tree, the matriarch of the Northwest apple industry, has died

The Old Apple Tree in Vancouver, Washington, in an undated historical picture, left, and in 2020.

(CNN)An apple tree thought to be the oldest in the Pacific Northwest has died this summer at 194 years of age.

The Old Apple Tree in Vancouver, Washington, was planted in 1826 when fur traders of the Hudson's Bay Company settled in the area. It was considered the matriarch of the region's bustling apple industry and produced a green apple that was bitter to the taste but great for baking.
"While we knew this day would come, we hoped it was still years away," Charles Ray, urban forester for the City of Vancouver, told CNN.
    Around 2015, the team of experts caring for the tree noticed that the cambium layer -- the growing part of the trunk -- was starting to die back, Ray explained. That contributed to the creation of a spiral crack in the trunk, which hollowed out over the years. The tree finally died in June.
    The Old Apple Tree in a picture from 2018.
    "The tree itself has taken on its own persona. It's a living organism, just like us, and it's been faced with a lifetime of challenges," Ray said. "It stood there for generations and witnessed the world change around it."
    The Old Apple Tree weathered countless storms and the construction of railways and highways in its vicinity, becoming a beloved community landmark.
    "Local schools would take trips to the tree, it has touched generations of people throughout the Northwest, and probably around the nation," Ray said.
    The tree is a well-known celebrity among heritage apple experts, who are interested in preserving and studying ancient kinds of apples originally planted by early settlers.
    "When anybody speaks of the oldest apple tree in the Northwest, everybody knows it was that apple tree," David Benscoter, a retired FBI agent who now runs "The Lost Apple Project" told CNN. "I'm sure people never thought it could reach that age," Benscoter said.
    In 1984, a public park was built around the tree, and since, every October the city has held a festival to celebrate it. This year's edition was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
    On Sunday, members of the Vancouver community held a memorial for the tree on Facebook, sharing stories and memories.

    Rooted in history

    Legend has it that The Old Apple Tree came to Vancouver as a seed, transported by a British naval officer.
    Royal Navy Lieutenant Aemilius Simpson received the seeds at a dinner in London before departing for the Hudson's Bay Company's fur trading outpost in the Pacific Northwest.
    "A young woman that was there with him, as she was bidding him farewell, slipped a few apple seeds from her dessert into his jacket pocket, and suggested that he plant those when he reached the Northwest," said Brad Richardson, executive director at the Clark County Historical Museum.