121-year-old tree to come down in Chelmsford town common

The purple beech will soon be gone from the town common in Chelmsford.
The purple beech will soon be gone from the town common in Chelmsford. –Fred Merriam

A 121-year-old purple beech tree in Chelmsford’s town common is slated to be removed Thursday after arborists decided its cracks and decay made it too dangerous to be left standing.

On Arbor Day in 1891, Chelmsford schoolchildren planted the tree, which now towers 70 feet high — with some support from cables and chains, said Chelmsford Town Manager Paul Cohen.

The purple beech — leaves on the trees tend to change to a purplish hue in the winter — had been roped off to keep visitors from getting too close, as a 7-foot-by-3-foot cavity split the tree’s trunk, rendering it unstable, Cohen said.


“It’s really in tough shape,’’ Cohen said. He noted that some residents might not realize how much it has rotted. “Because of the safety issues, people haven’t been up to the base and roots to really see it.’’

The tree has a 40-foot canopy; the trunk’s circumference is just under 18 feet, Cohen said.

The town was anticipating that the tree would eventually need to come down when signs of decay were found. Decay was found in the crack, as well as an infestation of carpenter ants, Cohen said.

“Everyone was sort of lamenting it but expecting it,’’ Cohen said. He also said Hurricane Sandy had a harsh impact on the tree.

Removal of the tree will start Thursday morning. The process is expected to last most of the day.

“We’re trying to see if we can keep the base of the tree and make a sculpture out of it. There is talk of taking some of the wood to sell it or to make benches,’’ Cohen said. “First, we have to find out what we have to work with.’’

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