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THE TREES ON THE COMMON
SERIOUS injury to the trees on the Common resulted from the great equinoctial gale of September, 1815, which raged with almost unexampled fury at intervals for two or three days. Perhaps the strongest evidence of the storm’s violence was the overthrow of five of the Paddock Elms; the largest of these having a circumference of nearly eight feet. Eleven large trees on the line of Beacon Street were uprooted, and more than twenty stately elms on the Common were laid low. Vivid descriptions of the tempest’s ravages appeared in the “Boston Gazette,” the “Columbian Centinel,” and other local newspapers.
“It excites truly melancholy reflections,” wrote one observer, “to see such noble trees torn up by the roots.... The injury done to the Mall, that superb Promenade, the pride and ornament of the Town, will be greatly lamented.” Every building in Boston, it was stated, however situated, experienced more or less damage; many of them being unroofed. Battlements and balustrades were blown down, windows broken, and tiles, bricks, and timbers were hurled through the air in every direction. The uproar was terrific and appalling. Salt water from the ocean was borne forty miles inland by the wind, which was described as “an awful, tremendous blast.”
In response to a request for information about the elm trees on the Common, Frank William Rane, Esq., the State Forester, wrote as follows, in July, 1918: “In looking over the trees in this neighborhood I find that there are but five which could have been planted by the elder Mayor Quincy; all others having either died or been taken off. There are three elms, one good-sized one, about center way on Park Street, and two more near Tremont Street, which may have been planted at that time. On the Common itself there are two more good-sized elms, one farther up toward the State House, and the other about midway, that would appear to have about the proper age alluded to.”
In regard to the causes which have led to the removal of so many of these trees, the State Forester mentions the depredations caused by insects and diseases, together with changes of the grades of streets and paths; the congestion of hordes of tramping people; and gases from City pipes. All these have a deterrent effect upon tree growth. The feeding of trees has usually been the last consideration shown them. In these days, however, more careful study and attention are being given the subject.
Dr. Holmes was accustomed to carry about in his pocket a string, wherewith to determine the girth of any especially large tree at home or abroad. “For,” wrote he, “it is wonderful to note how people will lie about trees!”