Elm’s return: Group to donate tree to Newport

Posted July 08, 2010, at 11:28 p.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — Elm Street in Newport, along with most of the other Elm Streets in the United States, is the site of sad irony. There are no elm trees.

Dutch elm disease devastated the species in the 1960s and 1970s, driving it to near extinction in wide swaths of the United States. With the help of the nonprofit Elm Research Institute, elm trees are coming back to Newport, and this time they’re disease-resistant.

At a cost of about $110 to the town for shipping, the institute has agreed to donate an elm tree up to 14 feet tall. The Newport Board of Selectmen unanimously accepted the donation during its meeting Wednesday night. They discussed putting the tree at the public boat launch on Sebasticook Lake, but decided Newport Ele-mentary School would be a better location. Both sites are on Elm Street near the downtown.

“I think it’s a good event,” Town Manager James Ricker said to selectmen. “They will pay for the tree if we’ll pay the shipping. That tree costs $1,700.”

The American Liberty elm, in addition to serving as a hardy replacement to the devastated American elm population, pays homage to the famous Liberty Tree planted in Boston in 1646. By the time of the American Revolution, the tree was 100 feet tall and the site of protests and troop rallies against King George III. Colonists hanged Lord Bute of Britain in effigy from the tree in 1765, earning it a dubious enough reputation that the British cut it down in 1775, some 150 years before Dutch elm disease came to the United States.

In accepting the donation, the town must hold a dedication ceremony on or before Aug. 14, the 245th anniversary of Lord Bute’s hanging in effigy. The Liberty Tree Society, which is part of the Elm Research Institute in Keene, N.H., also will donate a bronze plaque. Ricker told selectmen that the plaque could be mounted on a granite rock for about $400, bringing the overall cost of the project to less than $525.

The Newport American Legion Post 105 also is working with the Liberty Tree Society to bring two smaller American Liberty elms to town, Ricker said.

To date, 420 towns and colleges have accepted Liberty Tree memorials. According to Yvonne Spalthoff, associate director of the Liberty Tree Society, more than 300,000 American Liberty elms have been planted across the United States. Each member of the society who pays a $50 fee receives a 3-foot-tall tree and plaque, with the proceeds fueling the activities of the nonprofit organization.

“We hope other towns will join the ranks and establish Liberty Tree memorials and that educators will reinforce the history with classroom projects,” said Spalthoff.

Newport Board of Selectmen Chairman Thomas Breitweg said he also sees educational value for the students of Newport Elementary School.

“[For] the kids who go there now, by the time they grow up, it’ll be a pretty big tree,” he said. “I’m all for it.”

For information about the Liberty Tree Society, visit www.elmresearch.org.

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