SHIRLEY -- Not everybody who spoke at a tree hearing held during Monday night's selectmen's meeting agreed, but when all was said and done, the board spoke with one voice.
It may be 100 feet tall and could be 150 years old, but the towering pine tree in the historic Town Center Cemetery has become a hazard and must be taken down.
Robert Adam, president of the Historic Meetinghouse Preservation Society, called the tree "historic" in a letter to the board but conceded it poses a risk.
Another society member, Harley Holden, stated in a letter that the ancient pine is a "volunteer" tree that sprouted spontaneously in the Phineas Whitney plot and was not planted there.
Now, its heavy branches hover dangerously over the headstones, its massive roots displacing them.
But society member Meredith Marcincewicz said it's not clear whether the tree is hazardous and removal would be costly. "I've got more questions than answers," she said.
DPW foreman and Tree Warden Paul Farrar recommended removing the tree. He said the tree may look healthy outside, but it's rotten inside and an imminent threat.
To prove it, he stuck a 6-foot-long rake handle into the tree's fork, a foundational apex that two separate trunks rise from, making the massive pine look like two trees growing from a single base.
The hollow swallowed up the rake handle, Chairman Andy Deveau said, and that convinced him the tree had to go.
But Historic Commission
"I sense that some folks think it's dangerous just because it's large," he said.
Sylvia Shipton, who lives across the road from the old cemetery, sided with the majority opinion.
"I think the tree has to come down," she said.
Ironically, a nearby tombstone stands as testimony to how dangerous trees can be. Able Longley is buried there, but according to his epitaph, he "wasn't very able" because he was killed by a tree, she said.
Slate headstones in the cemetery date to the late 1700s and are recognized forms of "Early American primitive art," Shipton continued. They should be preserved, in this case by removing a tree that poses a threat.
The big pine has done damage already and is in the process of doing more, said Cemetery Committee member Frances Gray. She described stones in the Rev. Whitney's plot that have been split asunder by fallen branches and others pushed aside by the roots.
Responding to those who favored saving the tree, she said it's obvious to her which is more important.
"Doesn't anybody care about the historic headstones?" she asked. "That tree should have come down 75 years ago."
Gray and fellow commissioner Ray Farrar said the commission will likely recommend spending $3,000 to remove the tree, even though it means spending half its budget.
Deveau agreed it's a perpetual care issue and that the tree is a goner. After some discussion, the other two selectmen agreed.
The hearing took a half-hour, but discussion was all about a single tree. In contrast, there was not a word of dissent about a half-dozen other trees on Harvard Road that were included in the hearing and whose removal to make way for new utility poles will be paid for by National Grid.
A second tree hearing followed for the removal of trees on Leominster and Catacutemaug roads, where a new culvert is being installed. The trees are in the way, Deveau explained. Nobody objected. That hearing lasted less than five minutes.
Both outcomes were the same. The selectmen voted unanimously to remove all the trees on the two lists, including the venerable pine in the cemetery.