The City Arborist

After I was informed by Councilor Herzog that the City now has a City Arborist, Tom Brann, I read in the paper a few days ago, that he is soundly being criticized by his ‘mutilation’ of the trees around the Firehouse.

Alas, I am duly withholding my criticism (and I am as you know full of criticism) because I know that Newburyport has lacked a full-time city arborist for decades, not just a few years.      

Again, I have to jump on the way back machine to explain the current situation, the past situation and why the hiring of this man will, in itself, secure Mayor Holaday in the history books.

If you take the time to look at old historic pictures of Newburyport – I mean ‘old’ as in 18th and early 19th century; you will be struck by one overriding fact.     The City was bare of trees!   This was because in that society, grazing animals from cows, oxen and horses needed wide swaths of area and open space was a low-cost way to do it.

So, how did we go from a ‘naked’ city to trees becoming part of our very identity?

Obviously as the industrial revolution progressed and agriculture became less and less inside our city and the need for horses became less, there was less need to keep pasture land.     But if you go all around New England, you will see that no where are street trees as important as in Newburyport.      

That was due to John Bromfield, a wealthy international merchant who prospered here in Newburyport and after the Great Fire of 1811 became even more wealthy and prosperous in Boston.     But he never forgot his Alma mater.

When he died in 1851, he bequeathed a vast sum of money to Newburyport to build sidewalks throughout the urban areas and to have street trees up and down and all around our neighborhoods.     The new city did so and this is why sidewalks can be found with their accompanying trees from Atkinson Park all the way to the Newbury border.        Bromfield Street was named after him.

“The greatest monument to this man that we see in Newburyport is the waving and rustling of leaves over our city (from the trees he endowed) and the beautiful brick sidewalks that still survive [or are being restored] … again, that he financed.    On hot days, these monuments to his forethought give shade to those who walk our streets.    Each bird that sings from the tree branches pays tribute to his handiwork.”   

                                                           – James Parton, Captains of Industry or Men of business
                                                                        who did something besides making money, 1890.

Unfortunately, in the twentieth century, his sidewalk and tree fund was neglected and the trees were largely left to themselves.     The Dutch Elm disease devastated great swaths of Newburyport and in desperation, inappropriate trees with shallow root systems were planted that have decimated our sidewalks.

And yes, it gets worse.     The city has not taken care of these trees whatever type of species and a large percentage of them are diseased or severely damaged.      

This is why the Tree Committee has for years been pushing for a city arborist.      This title was pushed off on the DPS director.     A director who already has a full plate and has no real training in taking care of trees.

So what happens when all of a sudden you have trees in terrible condition and a trained arborist finally arrives.

Tough love.     

My trees in my yard hadn’t been appropriately taken care of for decades and when I finally hired a company to trim the branches, I just about had heart failure!     I thought they had killed the tree.    Only later did I realize their surgery was a way to redirect the tree back to healthy growth.     

So yes, I am upset too about the trees at the Firehouse but I would love someone from the Tree Committee to give us some thoughts on the situation.

-P. Preservationist

PS. The Tree Committee has a group called the Friends of the Tree Committee who has posted a website on the appropriate trees to plant in Newburyport.      I recommend that everyone in town check the site.


About P. Preservationist

Dedicated to the Enrichment & Preservation of Newburyport
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