Category Archives: Historic Preservation

Commonality

“Each town should have a primitive forest where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation. All Walden Woods might have been preserved for our park forever, with Walden in its midst, and the Easterbrooks Country, an unoccupied area of some four square miles in the north of the town, might have been our huckleberry field. . . . Journal, 10/15, 1859.

Let’s begin the new year with praise for the Commons – what we hold in common, what we hope in common, what we walk in common.

Commons Trail

Commons Trail

Five or so years ago, I took a walk into our town Commons, a two-hundred-acre stamp of wood- and wetland set aside for wanderings and recreation. Already, after a few years along these trails, I was growing attached to them and to the trees that always awaited me there. So the sound of saws snarling unsettled me; as I walked deeper into the woods, the saws grew louder. Near the heartland of the Commons lies a pitch pine barren, once a common finding in our area, now a rare one. The cutting was going on there, and, as I approached I heard the familiar crack followed by the gathering rush of toppling as a tree went down.

No little outrage quickened my pace. The saws of the world, even here? I said to myself. Even in the Commons?

Here is the moment to remind myself that it’s always good to get the full story before boarding the express to outrage. Here is compression of that story: the cutting in progress aimed at large white pines that had overshadowed their smaller pitch pine neighbors; the Commons were “in succession,” shifting into their next stage. But the pitch pines and their barren were now unusual, deemed worth preserving, and, with some thinning, they would thrive. Okay, I thought, let’s see.

Pitch Pine Friends

Pitch Pine Friends

To ring in this new year and celebrate its possibility, I went for a walk in the Commons. The air was sharp, the sky open faced. And in the barrens heartland, the pitch pines rose from the general scrub like columns of gray smoke; then their thick needles poked the sky. The barrens had an expansive feel that infused me with hope for what’s ahead. Here and there, I could see the aging stump of a white pine, and from one I looked aloft, imagining the 80-foot tree that stood there and the way it would have obscured the sky.

Rising Column

Rising Column

The selective cutters had done well, I thought. In one tiny grove, more than 50 pitch pines aimed at becoming full trees; each had been given a chance; a few would become the grove’s dominant trees. And the barrens, with its wide spacing of trees would provide walking reminder of what once was usual in our area.

Our Commons now has its uncommon barren and its common paths, where I and others have a place to wander throughout the coming year. What we hold in common is a place both rare and usual; it is where we often walk to find ourselves.

Best wishes for the Commons of 2015.

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Filed under Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Historic Preservation, Nature, The Roost, Thoreau Quote

Once More to the Old Tree

By Corinne H. Smith

In November 1860, Henry David Thoreau walked around the neighboring town of Boxboro to inspect an old-growth woodlot owned by Henderson Inches. He was fascinated by the oldest oak trees he had ever seen. He made two separate trips in eight days and did a lot of trunk measuring. “I can realize how this country appeared when it was discovered,” he wrote on November 10th. “Such were the oak woods which the Indian threaded hereabouts.”

The oldest tree I ever met was a craggy and shaggy sycamore that lived a few miles from my childhood home. Our Girl Scout troop visited it once, probably in the late 1960s. We were told then that it was either the oldest or the largest tree in the state. Or was it the country? I forget. I remember that its arms stretched over the front yard of a farmhouse that was otherwise surrounded by cornfields. One huge branch almost touched the ground. We could have climbed up and sat on it, but we were warned against doing so. Someone was worried that the branch would break off under our weight. Being an avid tree climber myself, I was disappointed. The tree was great to look at. But I longed to clamber over that one branch and to sit among its massive leaves for a while. I would have been careful. I wouldn’t have broken it.

Fast forward, forty years. Now most of the cornfields are gone from this area. They’ve been replaced by a four-lane highway, strips of businesses and eateries, and a road leading to the Old Sycamore Industrial Park. It’s ridiculous. I feel a sense of indignation whenever I pass by the intersection.

I voiced this opinion to a childhood friend recently, as he and I were riding along the main road. “It’s too bad that the only legacies left of the tree are its name and its picture on that stupid sign,” I said.

sycamorepark

“What are you talking about? The tree’s still there,” he said.

“No, really? I assumed it had fallen down or had been plowed under.”

We made a quick turn onto Old Tree Drive, passed a few faceless facades of warehouses, and then turned left into a small parking lot. Sure enough, there they both still stood: the farmhouse and the sycamore tree. I was amazed. The developers had chosen to leave them alone.

And yet: time and circumstances had aged the tree a great deal. Fresh leaves showed that the tree was still alive, but much of its main trunk had deteriorated and was missing. It seems never to have grown straight up toward the sky. Instead, it grew out and across the yard. The low main branch I remembered was now supported by a short post, and part of it had long settled on the ground. The higher main branch also rested on a large support timber. This sycamore was an even older man now, receding and wasting away, needing crutches. But it was still hanging on; still taking in carbon dioxide and giving us fresh oxygen in return. Thank you, Tree.

sycamore1

In the days that followed, I grew curious about this sycamore. Was it the oldest or the largest, within any political boundaries? I did some brief research. A contributor to a 1944 state tree book called “Penn’s Woods, 1682-1932,” said that this one was ‘Pennsylvania’s Most Massive Tree.” Local newspapers occasionally ran stories about the tree, but the articles didn’t include any accolades. I clicked on some web sites that documented the oldest or biggest trees in the country and in the world. But no one had yet registered “our” sycamore on these species lists. And I didn’t have any numbers to make accurate comparisons. So I did what Henry David Thoreau would have done. I went back to the site outfitted with a tape measure, a camera, a notebook, and an assistant.

sycamore4

We measured the girth – or, what remains of it – at 25 feet around. The low branch is about 70 feet long and is generally about 7 ½ feet in circumference. We can estimate that its age is somewhere in the 300-350 year range, taking it back to a time when this place really WAS part of Penn’s Woods and was merely a colony. I registered the tree on an international Monumental Trees web site. According to the lists assembled there, this one may not be the oldest or the biggest sycamore tree in Pennsylvania. One in Lansdowne may beat it out by 100 years.

Our sycamore may not be an award winner or a “witness tree,” but it has witnessed quite a lot. We can be proud of its history and its stamina, and we can admire it for as long as it is able to live with us. And yes, I still desperately want to climb over that low branch. I haven’t … yet.

(Thanks to Paul Martin, Jr., for his help in this rediscovery.)

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Filed under General, Henry David Thoreau, Historic Preservation, Nature, News and Events, The Roost

Thoreau Farm Receives 2012 Preservation Award

Representatives from Thoreau Farm and the Town of Concord were at the MA Historical Commission recently to receive a 2012 Preservation Award from Sec. of the Commonwealth William H. Galvin.

During the ceremony, Secretary Galvin stressed the importance of saving and preserving significant historic structures.

In his congratulatory letter to Thoreau Farm, Secretary Galvin wrote: Continue reading

The Massachusetts Historical Commission sincerely appreciates all efforts to preserve the Commonwealth’s valuable historic properties. The careful restoration and rehabilitation of the Wheeler-Minot House [Thoreau Farm], and its function as an educational resource, demonstrates a strong commitment to historic preservation that goes well beyond what is normally expected. On behalf of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, I applaud this outstanding contribution to historic preservation.

Thoreau Farm Trust is deeply honored by the 2012 Preservation Award and very proud of this achievement. We are grateful to everyone who played a role in the preservation of Thoreau Farm.

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Filed under Historic Preservation, News and Events