Wilmette's Bicentennial Ash Tree: 1746-2011

Oldest living tree in the North Shore suburb crashes down in a fit of Mother Nature's fury

By BJ Lutz and Stefan Holt
|  Tuesday, Jul 12, 2011  |  Updated 4:47 PM CDT
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The oldest living tree in Wilmette -- nicknamed the Bicentennial Ash Tree in 1976 -- came crashing down in a fit of Mother Nature's fury Monday morning.

The oldest living tree in Wilmette -- nicknamed the Bicentennial Ash Tree in 1976 -- came crashing down in a fit of Mother Nature's fury Monday morning.

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Throughout the course of its 265 years, a certain Green Ash tree in Wilmette grew from a sapling to a shade-providing behemoth more than six feet in diameter.

It was there before the Revolutionary War and a full 126 years before Wilmette was even incorporated.

But the oldest living tree in the North Shore suburb -- nicknamed the Bicentennial Ash Tree in 1976 -- came crashing down in a fit of Mother Nature's fury Monday morning.

"The whole thing fell, and it was sort of like being in an action-adventure movie," said Wilmette resident David Evans, who was driving through the area near Michigan Avenue and Sheridan Road when the clear skies darkened and the winds picked up.

Though a portion of the tree in Gillson Park remains standing, the trunk has decayed and the root system destroyed.  Humans will finish the job of taking the tree down.

Village President Christopher Canning said officials were looking into ways to repurpose the tree's wood.

"It's just so sad. I mean, you look at that plaque, which says it's the oldest-living tree in Wilmette, and then you see the remnants of the tree, and it's just a horrible contradiction.  It's a beautiful tree, and you just wonder why some trees remain standing that are so, seemingly, less sturdy than this one," said Julie Matthei.

Throughout the day Monday and Tuesday, the tree was visited by people -- some on their normal routes, others taking a detour in their days -- paying their respects, reflecting and taking photographs.  Some picked up pieces of  timber, unsure of what they'll do with them.

"You can't replace it, 300 years old.  We're not going to live to see another tree to last that long.  It lasted a few generations," said Ibrahim Shihadeh, keeping a big-picture focus on what brought the big tree down.

"That's life.  It's not, like, negligent of anybody.  It is nature and we just have to accept it and deal with it," he said.

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