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Some old trees—number 3

By Sara A. Stone
The willows once growing on College avenue, near the golf grounds, were probably planted to protect a creek which ran into the Middlesex canal to keep it supplied with water. The canal was under construction early in 1800.

The Tufts College grounds, now so well adorned with trees, once presented a practically treeless hill. Early pictures of it show the lines of stone wall which divided the farms, and few or no trees. The last of the walnuts, which gave the name to the hill originally, were cut down by the soldiers encamped on Winter Hill for their log huts and back-logs. Aaron B. Magoun gave to the college in its first year a tree for every student from his nursery on Winter Hill. Otis Curtis, one of the trustees, superintended the planting of most of the trees on the hill, and set out the row of willows on College avenue, towards Medford. Ladies of the Universalist societies in the vicinity of Boston used to have ‘planting bees,’ with a public celebration and the planting of trees, from time to time. The row of elms set in front of the house of the first president are still standing, though the house has been moved away.

Of the tract formerly known as ‘Polly Swamp,’ a small piece, half an acre or less, remains on Albion street. A few oaks and some underbrush make a little spot of green, and eight cedar trees may be found in the vicinity. A few large elms, undoubtedly some of the original swamp, still grace several of the yards. This is all that is left of a large tract which once afforded fine cover for quail, which, in the memory of a well-known resident of Somerville, used to be seen crossing what is now Highland avenue.

On the southerly side of Broadway, not far from Magoun [86] square, are five large white-ash trees, which were set out by Joseph Adams some time previous to 1800. The largest of these is thirteen feet, ten inches in circumference, the smallest eight feet, six inches. Mr. Adams built his house, now better known as the Magoun house, on the top of Winter Hill in 1783. Of the orchard he planted there remain two apple trees. One of them has lately taken a new lease of life through the cultivation of a vegetable garden, and bears apples as fine in flavor as ever. (This tree was cut down December, 1906.) The other, and a very old cherry tree, are best seen from Central street, near Broadway.

On this estate a sweet apple tree was planted by one of the daughters, Rebecca, afterwards Mrs. Jonas Tyler, of Charlestown. As she died in 1,804, the tree was in the neighborhood of a hundred years old when it was blown down in 1897. From some of the wood a frame for the charter of Anne Adams Tufts chapter, D. A. R., was made, and two gavels, one of which is the property of the chapter, and the other of the Coenonia Club.

Near the spot where the ash trees stand was an encampment of soldiers during the Revolution, who made part of the havoc cutting down trees mentioned earlier in this paper. The logs which formed their barracks were afterwards used by Mr. Adams to build his barn. Mr. Adams built a fence with a red gate, an entrance to the field, the line of which the ash trees bordered. Miss Augusta F. Woodbury, one of the early pupils of the high school, in 1854 wrote a poem inspired by these trees, which may be of interest here:—

The old red gate.

By the old red gate neath the white-ash tree,
     In twilight's pensive hour,
We have sat and watched the sun go down,
     Gilding each bud and flower.

The dearest friends of childhood there
     Have sat and sung with me,
Have sung the songs we loved so well,
     Beneath that dear old tree.

[87] We sat in the shade of the drooping boughs,
     And listened to the chime
Of the evening bells, that solemnly
     Proclaimed the flight of time.

The soft, green grass of the earth was our couch;
     No thought of sorrow then,
As we listened to the singing of the birds,
     The flowers our diadem.

Before 1824 an orchard of four or five acres was planted on this estate, and fifty years ago was flourishing in its prime where Magoun square now is. Aaron B. Magoun had a nursery on Winter Hill :t a later time. A hackmatack, planted by John C. Magoun in 1824, or a little later, whose top leans from long struggles with prevailing winds, is a landmark from distant points to those whose home interests centre around this spot.

A large horse-chestnut, four white mulberry trees, and several elms on the terrace opposite attract attention by their size and appearance of vigor. The elms, remembered by a near-by resident as large trees in her girlhood, are at least seventy-five years old. Two Lombardy poplars of advanced age stand in the yard of a house on Main street, and peep over the top of the hill at the observer. Three large chestnut trees, a butternut, and half a dozen other mulberry trees formerly grew here. The mulberry trees were raised by William Woodbury, who imported the seed from Italy at the time of the craze for silk-worm culture. From 1836 to 1841 the state-paid a bounty on mulberry trees. Another mulberry tree of the same kind stands on Sycamore street close to the railroad bridge. A butternut grows in the yard of the house on the opposite side.

A sapling, now grown to be a noble tree in its prime, was set out some time in the seventeen-seventies by John Tufts, when lie began to occupy the Tufts house on Sycamore street, soon after General Lee left it. Mr. Tufts set it out to shade the well, and if it could speak it would tell a tale of domestic quiet and happiness, rather than one of the bruit of arms. In the memory [88] of one, at least, of the children of the second generation born in the house are stored pleasant pictures of days gone by, when the golden robin built her nest in the long branches, and a swing hung from a branch over the road or driveway which led up to the house from Medford street. The Somerville Historical Society also has pleasant and inspiring memories of the years when the old house was its headquarters.

Sycamore trees grew on each side of the driveway, and gave the name to the street. They were cut down long ago, and boards made of the wood were used to re-floor a shed of the Tufts house. Wood from the sycamore tree is not suitable for use in places exposed to the atmosphere, and so the new floor was not very durable.

A row of sycamore trees grew on each side of Medford street, from Central to Thurston, where there was a well and drinking trough for the wayfarer and Mr. Tufts' cattle. From Thurston to School, the land being somewhat lower, Medford street was lined with willows. All these trees met overhead, and must have formed an attractive, shady avenue. At School street was a small pond with a large willow tree in the centre. A ‘resting-stone’ near was often the stopping place on the way from school for one little girl, at least. Some of these willow trees still remain.

An orchard, with a great variety of fruit, was one of the attractions of this homestead, and there are left of it four trees, still bearing, three of which belong to a member of the second generation. Of the rest of the orchard, which was located across Medford street from the Tufts house, as well as back toward Central street, only the memory of a tree, the fruit of which was very sweet, though no larger than a crab-apple, remains.

Many of the trees on Forster street were set out by Deacon Charles Forster, who was interested in the formation of the first church in Somerville, and in other measures for the good of the community, when it was separated from Charlestown, in 1842.

Going down Broadway, one on the lookout for old trees is brought to a halt at the sight of a spreading apple tree on the estate of I. A. Whitcomb. Investigation leads one to conclude [89] that it is probably one of an orchard planted by Joseph Tufts, who lived in the Tufts homestead at the corner of Central street and Broadway, and died there in 1819. The orchard was located on both sides of Broadway. Four trees are still standing, two on the right going down, and two on the left in the yard of Selwyn Z. Bowman. The largest tree is said to have had a reach of seventy-two feet a few years ago.

Temple street may be called one of the oldest streets in Somerville, being originally the drive to the ‘Manor House’ on ‘Ten Hills Farm,’ occupied successively by Sir Robert Temple, General Elias Hasket Derby, and Colonel Samuel Jaques. From detailed descriptions of people and events connected with ‘Ten Hills’ already printed in Historic Leaves, one may glean the following facts about the trees:—

A winding drive led up to the house, ‘fringed on either side with the fragrant Balm of Gilead.’ ‘On either side of the house were magnificent elm trees. One, in particular, was unusually large, girting more than eleven feet, three feet from the ground. The spreading branches formed a fine support for a platform at a distance of thirty feet from the ground, and tea parties were given among the leaves, as many as eight or ten participating.’ Fruit trees abounded.

Fifty years or so ago there were seventeen elms in the vicinity. A boy of seven proudly fulfilled a contract for several years for protecting the trees from the ravages of the cankerworms by keeping a band of tarred paper freshly coated with tar during the season.

After the death of Colonel Jaques in 1859 brick-making was carried on, and the industry sounded the death-knell of the trees. In the boyhood of one, at least, of the present generation an interesting spectacle was the falling of the great stumps into the pits, as excavations undermined their stronghold. Under one, of the trees near Jaques street was a fine well of water, which was often a halting-place for the boys on their way to the river for a swim.

Five elms of the Temple-Derby-Jaques trees are standing on Temple street now, but to which of the owners of ‘Ten Hills’ [90] they may be credited it is impossible to say definitely. Temple street was formerly known as Derby street, and Colonel Jaques presented it to the city. After comparison with other trees whose approximate age is known, one is inclined to say they are something over a hundred years, perhaps one hundred and twenty-five years old. Probably the trees nearer the house were older.

On the corner of Sargent avenue and Broadway was an old pear tree and a very large Balm of Gilead in the early days of Somerville. The large elm at Walnut street, in the parkway, was in the yard of Chauncey Holt, whose house stood there and was removed when Broadway was widened. Mr. Holt lived in Somerville in 1842, and, in all probability, some years previous to that time. Large elms on Walnut street, in front of the Skilton estate, are from sixty to seventy-five years old. Those in front of the Gilman place were set out seventy years ago. Only one remains to-day, standing by the sidewalk.

A Revolutionary elm stood at the corner of Broadway and Cross street until 1860, when it was cut down. Two tulip trees are remembered growing on the Runey estate on Cross street. As tulip trees are slow in coming to their maturity, they must have been of great age.

Willows are remembered growing on Broadway, about opposite Walnut street, long before the land was made into a park. The present trees date front 1876, when, on the seventeenth of June, the park was dedicated and formally opened to the public. Many citizens, at the invitation of the city government, presented trees, which were set out and marked with the names of the donors. Only a very few of the names can be ascertained, as there was no official record kept, or if it was kept, it has been lost. Ex-Mayor Furber set out four for himself and family; ex-Mayor Brastow, Zadoc Bowman, N. E. Fitz, Aaron Sargent, and John C. Magoun each set out one. Jacob Glines set out a sycamore tree very near the flagstaff. Clark Bennett and Quincy A. Vinal, who was chairman of the committee for laying out the park, both furnished trees. Mather E. Hawes set out an English elm. Credit should be given to him as the originator of [91] the scheme for celebrating the centennial year by setting out trees on Broadway Park.

When the grounds in front of the Latin School were laid out, the graduating class of the year set out a tree, the one on the right in front of the steps of the building. Those on the left were set out some years later by members of the school, who came in working clothes, with the requisite tools, and made a gala time of it one afternoon, under the supervision of the principal, Mr. Baxter. Quincy A. Vinal furnished a tree for the grounds, likewise Charles A. Bradshaw, in the name of his mother, but neither of these trees lived. Robert A. Vinal, besides setting out all the trees on his own estate on Walnut street, furnished a tree for the high school grounds, the one on the westerly corner of the group in front of the Latin High School.

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