[Originally published in the Cambridge Chronicle, August 2002]
Cambridge has been doubly blessed in terms of its natural architecture–both by a long history reflected in the trees and also by its progressive contemporary policies toward them. Take a walk or bike ride one of these summer days when the weather is warm and the foliage at its peak to learn about some of Cambridge’s most prominent trees.
The Houghton Beech
The magnificent but slightly claustrophobic looking beech tree at 1008 Mass Ave is the Houghton Beech, Cambridge’s only living landmark. Planted over 150 years ago on the estate of Henry O. Houghton, Cambridge’s one-time mayor and founder of the Houghton Mifflin Company and Riverside Press, the tree was threatened but saved in the 1970s when MIT acquired the property and demolished the original buildings. Then in the 1980s, the tree was scheduled to be destroyed to make way for the sprawling apartment complex that now occupies the site. Neighborhood activists intervened and in 1985, the tree was declared a historic landmark.
The Washington Elm
If you travel carefully across the busy intersection at Mason and Garden Streets, you’ll see all that remains of the most famous of Cambridge’s trees, a brass plate commemorating where the Washington Elm once stood. Born in the forests of pre-Colonial Cambridge, the elm is said to have sheltered George Washington as he took command of the American Army in July 1775. For almost 150 years, it was the most beloved of American elm trees–a prime tourist destination and subject of countless accolades. Its last decades saw it decline to a sad shadow of its former glory, and the remains were toppled by a storm in 1923. Today its scion lives nearby in the Cambridge Common.
[Note: does this still exist?] Children will be delighted to learn that Winnie-the-Pooh keeps a city apartment on Hurlbut Street, between Harvard and Porter Squares for his trips away from Pooh Corner. Carved from the stump of a 100-year old silver maple by prolific Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson and local resident Irven DeVore, the Pooh Tree has attracted thousands of well-wishers from around the world since it was created in 1998. Visitors are encouraged to sign Pooh’s guest book and inspect his tiny bedroom (complete with Hunny Pot) by peeking through the windows at the base of the tree.
To the right of the poet’s famous house at 105 Brattle Street is the only living survivor of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s era—-a grand linden tree more than 200 years old and 110 feet high. Longfellow mentioned the tree in his diary: “Fanny sits under the linden tree and reads to me Heine’s poems…”
The Memorial Drive Sycamores
It’s only thanks to the efforts of two men, John Moot and Edward L. Bernays (aka the “Father of Public Relations” that the grand row of sycamores still lines the stretch of Memorial Drive near Harvard Square. In 1964, a proposed highway interchange project was approved that would have destroyed the trees. Moot and Bernays caught wind of the project and mobilized widespread support for the trees. The project was halted and the sycamores continue to grace the roadway as they have done for over 150 years.
Mount Auburn Cemetary
The first and greatest of America’s garden cemeteries is home to one of the world’s greatest collections of trees and other plants. With over 6,000 mature trees marked clearly with identifying tags, Mount Auburn Cemetery is the perfect place to learn to identify new trees or just admire the view. Many of the trees here were planted in the 1830s when the cemetery was consecrated and are now reaching their full maturity and glory.