Elm Tree at the John Brown House

The Rhode Island Historical Society is deeply saddened to announce the impending loss of one of our beloved elm trees on the grounds of the John Brown House Museum. If you’ve ever attended one our Concerts Under the Elms, you know what a magical place it is to spend a summer evening.  Despite the best care and treatment of all of our trees, this one has been afflicted with the ubiquitous Dutch Elm Disease.  To prevent the spread of this lethal tree disease, we must remove the tree on January 22nd and 23rd, before the larvae that spread the disease hatch. (UPDATE: Tree removal is postponed until further notice.  Please stay tuned for more information.) In the spring, the remaining twelve elms  on site will receive the first of the treatments necessary to keep them safe for years to come.

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We believe that the more than thirty foot tall tree was planted around 1905, as part of the Olmsted Plan commissioned by Marsden Perry, then owner of the John Brown House.  Ed Desjarlais, Buildings and Grounds Manager of the RIHS, noticed a problem last summer.  “Leaves were turning brown, then branches, then a whole section of the tree.  We approached a certified arborist and the RI Extension Service, and our worst fears were confirmed.”
This is a loss to the Rhode Island Historical Society in many ways, including financially.  Unbudgeted costs for the removal and preventative treatments could approach $10,000 in 2013 alone.  Your gift in any amount will help preserve the magnificent landscape of the John Brown House.  If you would like to leave a more lasting legacy, please consider ‘adopting’ a tree.  $500 will pay for one year of treatment for one of the elms, and would be a meaningful project for a scout troop or mitzvah.  $1,000 will name a tree for one year – a wonderful tribute for a special birthday or anniversary.  $5,000 will endow the care of the tree for its lifetime.  Please call Director of Development Kathy Klees Clarendon at 401.331.8575, ext. 35 or kclarendon@rihs.org to discuss the best way to meet your philanthropic goals.  Visit www.www.rihs.org to make a gift.
If this tree could talk, imagine what stories it could tell.  When this elm was planted, our new State House was just being occupied by our state’s leaders—and Rhode Island was the wealthiest state in the union.  Trains chugged though Providence delivering raw materials and carrying finished goods to and from the most productive industries in America.  This tree stood tall as Rhode Islanders gave their lives in foreign wars, and somehow still taller as we welcomed countless thousands of people from dozens of nations to our shores.  In 1938 this elm weathered the legendary hurricane and forty years later it looked majestic swaddled in the snow that stopped Lil’ Rhodie cold.  This very tree sheltered the many religious and ethnically diverse children who grew up on Benefit Street before it was known as “a Mile of History.” And after the RIHS moved in during WWII, its canopy shaded many a party, picnic and art class.  This tree saw women get the right to vote and witnessed the election of our nation’s first African-American president.  It listened along as we made our way from records to eight tracks to cassette tapes, CDs and now mp3 players.  This tree saw our families grow as we watched it do the same.  We will be sad to say goodbye, but it was a life well lived.
The RIHS is working with the Ocean Woodturners, the Cape Cod Woodturners, and Dale Bonholm, Senior Critic of the Department of Furniture Design at the Rhode Island School of Design to create pieces available for sale to commemorate the life of the tree.

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