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Legendary Tree Taken Down In Brookline

By Jim Armstrong, WBZ-TV
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The Olmsted Elm shortly before it was taken down.

The Olmsted Elm shortly before it was taken down.

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BROOKLINE (CBS) – A tree grows in Brookline. Or at least it did – until this morning.

The tree in question is called The Olmsted Elm and is named after Frederick Law Olmsted, the world-famous landscape architect. Among his many accomplishments were New York City’s Central Park and Boston’s Emerald Necklace of parks stretching from Boston Common to Franklin Park.

WBZ-TV’s Jim Armstrong reports from Brookline

Olmsted moved to Brookline in the early 1800s and redesigned his own backyard, cutting down almost every tree, except one.

“It is probably one of the most significant trees in Massachusetts, if not the nation,” explained Alan Banks, Supervisory Park Ranger with the National Park Service.

“We had at least 100 people come by yesterday, taking pictures, and taking pictures of their family members and the elm in the background… small children, older people, everyone.”

For more than two centuries, the Elm was a focal point of Olmsted’s Warren Street estate.

“It’s iconic,” said neighbor Jean Stringham, who came this morning to take photos as the tree was taken down.

“It’s always been there, and it’s very old,” she said. “It’s just something that we love, really, and it’s part of the whole picture. It’s sad, it really is sad.”

Dutch elm disease has slowly eaten at the tree from the inside for several years. That, coupled with another fungus, spelled the end of the venerable tree.

Over the course of two hours this morning, experts slowly carved away at it with a chainsaw, leaving a stump no more than two feet high.

Myra Harrison is a superintendent with National Park Service. She watched the elm come down this morning with about a dozen other people.

“It’s a big loss for us and a loss for the landscape,” she said. “There’s a deep connection with a large growing thing. It’s so much bigger than any man or individual. Its lifetime far exceeds our own.”

“We’re deeply attached to this tree.”

Yet everyone agrees Olmsted himself would not have been as emotional at the loss. He would have kept an eye toward the future, according to the people who staff what is now the National Park that once was his home.

“He would say that this tree comes down so that another tree can take its place,” said ranger Banks.

And that’s essentially what will happen. Right now, there are clippings from that tree being nurtured at the Arnold Arboretum. The goal is to take the strongest of them and replant it right in Olmsted’s backyard where the old tree once stood. It may take a couple of hundred years, but that cutting could one day grow to be as strong and as tall as its predecessor.

As for the now-felled tree, it certainly won’t go to waste. Next fall, students at the Rhode Island School of Design will take a course in Olmsted’s work and use the wood from his elm to fashion pieces that reflect their studies.

Daniel Cavicchi is one of the RISD professors who will guide the students through the process.

“I think the tree is going to live on through the objects that the students create and the legacy of the students’ studies,” he said.

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