The old American Elm tree succumbs, July 11, 2012

The American Elm tree at the corner of County Street and East Streets succumbed to Dutch Elm disease and on July 11, 2012 it was felled.

The town made available pieces of the wood to artisans, woodworkers, furniture makers, builders, crafters and nonprofit organizations. Applications were reviewed by the Ipswich Department of Public Works and the Shade Tree and Beautification Committee.

I saw a huge rough chunk of the tree in Fred Blum’s shop when he and his wife gave me a tour of their home, the Newmarch-Spiller house.  He worked on it for over a year as the piece of wood slowly seasoned. At the beginning of 2015, Fred gave the finished cross-section to the Town of Ipswich, and it was briefly put on display on the first floor of the Ipswich Town Hall on Green Street. More work is to be done on the piece, and the display will be resumed, along with photographs and documentation.

A section of the old elm tree is on display at the Ipswich Town Hall

A section of the old elm tree was on display at the Ipswich Town Hall.

Fred told me about the process he used:

In the summer of 2012, East Street was line with people saying their farewells to the old elm tree.

In the summer of 2012, Ipswich folks lined up on East Street to say farewell to the old elm tree.

“It was in my shop for over a year. When delivered, it was approximately twice as thick at the thickest point as it is now. It took the large dump truck, the big forklift, the front end loader, and what seemed like the entire Ipswich Highway Department to deliver it.”

“The original slab was very rough and uneven. I set up a gantry system with a router to make repetitive passes so the top side would become parallel to the floor. That was a bit of a killer as with each pass the workpiece got lower, requiring that much more bending. The next step was cleaning things up with a Makita power plane. The sanding was repetitive passes with a 6″ Fein orbital sander with 40, 60, 80, 100. 120, 150, 180, 220, 320, and 600 grit paper.”

“After it was almost done on one side (the side you now see) it took 5 or 6 people from the Highway Department to turn it over (but I watched!) After working on the other side, it finished up at about 7 1/2″ thick and only took the front end loader to deliver it to the Town Hall. But I did not see it installed.”

“The story of the elm is still being written. The elm still needs to get happy with the heated and low humidity environment. Even though it dried for 2+ years, it has a little way to go. Therefore, it will have additional checking and probably one significant crack. There is a similar elm section in the Middle School, that has been inside all along and it will probably dry similar to that.”

By David Clark Wallace, June 26th 2012:

Elm tree Ipswich MA

Historic elm tree at the corner of East St. and County Street in Ipswich succumbed to Dutch Elm disease last year and was cut down.

You have stood proudly in grace throughout many a year
In defiant majesty and beauty unequaled by any peer.
A silent sentry at the corner of East and County; a shadow cast.
Now sadly with each passing sunset comes closer the last.
So many of your brethren have fallen in these years gone by
Yet you triumphantly lifted your limbs towards the sky.
A childhood memory finds me seeking the comfort of shade there
Yet today except for a bird on one of your limbs you were bare.
You have graced this corner for as long as so many can remember
Your brilliant hues painting pictures emblazoned in September.
Wilcomb’s and Armand’s Elm a blanket of white wintry snow
Now like Autumn’s skies sadly draped in a purple bow.
Many have grown old and weathered much like you and I
Generations have passed faces have changed but few pass you by
Today I am greatly saddened that you have died before me
But I and many more after will forever remember………


Map of remaining American elms still standing in the center of Ipswich, prepared by Kerry Mackin.

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