The old elm tree

The American Elm tree at the corner of County Street and East Streets succumbed to Dutch Elm disease, and on July 11, 2012 the tree was taken down. 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. A section of the old elm tree is on display at the Ipswich Town Hall

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. Finally in 2015, Fred delivered the finished cross-section to the Ipswich Town Hall, where it is on display in the first floor hallway.

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

Fred told me about the process he used:

“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.”

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

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