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Village's oldest, largest tree comes down

The crew from Deano Macís Services poses atop the trunk of the massive silver maple tree that stood on Park St. for approximately 150 years. Pictured are (clockwise from top) Jason Griffin, Dean Klovski, Zak Kochanowski and Carl McEvers. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
August 04, 2010 - The Village of Oxford's oldest resident died last week.

It's estimated this grand old gentleman resided at 43 Park St. for approximately 150 years, maybe more. He was definitely here before the village was incorporated in 1876.

During his lifetime, he provided a sturdy home for creatures ranging from ducks to squirrels. For many years, local school children visited him for lessons in math, science and history.

In the summer, he helped cool the neighborhood with shade. In the fall, he displayed a spectacular array of colors.

Though he slumbered all winter long, he never failed to wake up in time to let everyone know when spring had arrived.

Unfortunately, time finally caught up with this massive silver maple tree as sections of it became rotted and hollow, making it a hazard to both people and property.

"That tree hung over three houses, so I was concerned," said village resident Chris Bishop, who for 16 years has owned the rental property on which the mighty tree stood.

On July 16, one of the tree's limbs, which Bishop estimated to have a circumference of 30 inches and a length of about 45 feet, came crashing to the ground and through a neighbor's fence.

There were no storms or high winds that day. The culprit appeared to be the rot that was discovered inside the limb. The tree itself was examined and more rot was found.

Deano Macís Services employee Carl McEvers slices through the mammoth stump with a chainsaw. The dark rotted areas are clearly visible in the stump and trunk laying on its side. In the background is fellow worker Jeremy Babila. Photos by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
A combination of ants eating away at the tree and excess moisture getting trapped inside caused the rotting.

It was by no means an easy decision to make, but ultimately Bishop, who has a photograph of the tree taken in the 1870s, decided to have the historic tree cut down last week so as not to endanger anyone.

"Eventually, it's coming down. Better to do it now," he said.

By the time the crew from the Oxford-based Deano Mac's Services was finished July 29, all that remained of the old man was his giant trunk, the circumference of which was an impressive 18Ĺ feet.

At its highest point, the tree had extended approximately 85 feet into the air.

"That is the biggest tree I've ever seen in the village on private or public property," noted DPW Superintendent Don Brantley.

According to the 2010 National Register of Big Trees, the largest silver maple was recorded in Newberry, Michigan. It had a circumference of 347 inches (28.92 feet), a height of 115 feet and a spread of 61 feet. It was last measured in 2002.

When the trunk of Park Street's silver maple was taken down Aug. 2, it was discovered a significant portion of it was rotted all the way to the ground.

News of the venerable old tree's demise was disappointing to Jane Coram, a former village resident and retired Oxford teacher who now lives in Manistee.

"It's kind of sad to hear that it had to be taken down," she said. "It was the history of Oxford that you'd see there. It was part of that neighborhood. It made it unique. I just hate to see any kind of history leave. But when it became a hazard, something had to be done."

For about 17 years, Coram would take her first-grade classes from Daniel Axford Elementary on a little field trip to visit the tree and learn about it.

"Every year, usually in the spring or fall, we would take our walk over there," she said. "We always took a nature walk around the neighborhood. That was just one of the things I incorporated into our lesson."

Her twin sister, Janice Courtright, lived next door, so that's how she knew about the tree.

The petite pupils would measure the tree by standing shoulder-to-shoulder around its mammoth trunk.

"I'm not kidding, I could put 24 to 27 first-graders around that tree. That's how big that trunk was," said Coram, who retired in 2005 after 28 years with the district. "It was totally amazing to them. They would always talk about that afterwards in their writing (exercises). They were very intrigued with it."

Because the tree was located in a backyard, Coram said "you could walk past it everyday and not notice it from the sidewalk."

"But when it gets pointed out to you, then it becomes something special and I think that's what happened to (my students)," she said.

Often, the students would later show the tree to their parents.

"My sister said so many times they would come around and the cars would slow down to take a look," Coram said. "I'm sure a lot of those first-graders still remember that."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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