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Bid the historic "Olmsted Elm" goodbye in Brookline

Posted by Brock Parker  March 22, 2011 05:20 PM

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The Olmsted Elm in the summer of 2009. Photo by Joel Veak, courtesy of National Park Service/Frederick Law Olmsted

A signature tree beside the historic Brookline home of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted will be cut down next week after years of disease and decline have turned the prominent tree into a potential hazard.

But before the tree, known as the “Olmsted Elm” is cut down, the National Park Service is inviting people to pay it one last visit and bid it farewell.

“We have a beloved tree that has a lot of history here,” said Mark Swartz, a Park Ranger at the Frederick Law Olmsted Historic Site. “We’ve been struggling for months because the tree is posing a significant hazard.”

The vase-shaped American elm, which could be as much as 200 years old, was on the south lawn of the Warren Street home long before Olmsted moved onto the property in 1883.

The landscape architect, whose designs include New York’s Central Park and Boston’s Emerald Necklace, cut down a number of trees around the property with his stepson John Olmsted, but the elm was incorporated as a key element into the pastoral landscaping around the home that the elder Olmsted called Fairsted, said Swartz.

In addition to the age of the tree, the Olmsted Elm has additional historic significance because elms played a major role in many of Olmsted’s designs.

He died in 1903 and Fairsted has been operated by the National Park Service as a historic site since 1980. It has been closed since 2005 for renovations and plans are to reopen this fall.

Swartz said that recently the Olmsted Elm has been weakened by Dutch Elm disease and a fungal disease. It has been shedding branches and showing crown dieback, he said.

The Park Service has consulted with arborists, who have advised that the tree should come down because of the threat of the tree dropping branches on passersby or on the historic home, which is about 25 to 30 feet away, Swartz said.

The tree could be cut down as soon as Wednesday, March 30, Swartz said, and only a stump will be left behind. Cuttings have been made of the tree so a “clone” can eventually be planted at the spot, Swartz said, but it will be a year or two before the replacement tree is ready to be put into the ground.

The base of the tree has already been roped off as a precaution, and the Park Service is inviting anyone who wishes to see the tree one last time to pay their respects prior to next Wednesday.

The Park Service has also set up a web page on Facebook where memories or photographs of the tree can be shared, and more information about the removal of the tree can be found. The page can be found at or linked to through the Park Service website at


Photo by Matt Griffing. Courtesy of National Park Service/Frederick Law Olmsted NHS

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