A familiar sight in Watertown Square will be gone after nine decades when the town cuts down a large shade tree in the Watertown Delta on Tuesday.
The Norway Maple has stood in that spot since at least 1927, and was one of three tree planted there at the time. It has grown as tall as the next door Watertown Savings Bank building and has been lit during the holidays.
The tree, however, is splitting apart and is literally being held together by wires, said Watertown Tree Warden Chris Hayward. In July, a major limb came crashing down from the tree, and Hayward worried another limb could fall – and this time hurt someone.
“This area is frequented by people going to the bus stop. They have the tree lighting ceremony here,” Hayward said. “It is so much of a liability.”
The tree likely suffered when the Delta was changed. Norway Maples can live 150 to 175 years, but Hayward estimates this one is about 92 years old. Wires were installed to put up lights on the trees and for other spots in the area, so trenches were cut into the roots. The size of the Delta has changed, so soil might have been compacted. In addition, salt and pollutants did not help the tree’s fate.
So far, the other two trees are faring better.
Last week, Hayward sent out word that the tree might be coming down through the town’s email lists and on the town website. He received a variety of responses, from “thanks for letting us know,” to “it’s a Norway Maple, cut it down,” to “Do everything you can to save it.”
“We really have done everything we can,” Hayward said.
The two major parts of the tree are growing almost at a 90 degree angle and the weight has begun to split the trunk in two. Several years ago, a cable was strung between the two limbs to take some of the tension off the trunk. Also, a couple rod were put through the trunk.
“The rods have threads, and as the tree grew it grabbed onto it and holds it together,” Hayward said.
After the Norway Maple is removed, the town will replace it with something new. Hayward said it has not yet been determined what to plant in its place, though it won’t be another Norway Maple because it is a non-native species.
“They have a tree lighting ceremony here each year where they bring in a tree. What about planting a nice evergreen to make the town proud of,” Hayward said. “Others say you need to replace it with another shade tree.”
Whatever the species, the new tree will be planted in the spring, Hayward said.
“It is an iconic tree, but it is a renewable resource,” Hayward said. “We will get something back. We can plan for the future.”