The 108-year-old American elm that was felled this week at the John Brown House was one of the oldest residents of Benefit Street. It was as old as the State House, and it predated and outlived many of the iconic factories of the jewelry district.
Marsden J. Perry, who had bought the old Brown place in 1901, planted a whole yard of them. There are 12 still there! Marsden was the head of Bank of America at the time but he didn’t work in the Superman building; the Industrial Trust Tower wouldn’t be built for another two decades.
It’s tragic every time we lose an old elm tree, and not just because they’ve watched the 20th century come and go. Elms once dominated Main Streets all over southern New England, and they were the biggest and the oldest tree in northern hardwood forests.
Now they are almost all gone. Dutch Elm Disease, which is actually an invasive fungal bacteria from Asia, has killed most of them.
There are still a few big, old ones around though:
The biggest, I believe, is almost 100-ft-tall and stands on Waverly Street on the West End of Providence (read: not exactly Benefit Street). There’s also an 85-footer on Garfield Street in Central Falls. There’s also an 88-footer down in the Green Hill Beach area. The one pictured below, on Peirce Street in East Greenwich, measured 76-feet tall when it was last measured in 2008.