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History Lives Here Text

Letus Guard Our Trees

Aspeech given to the Saugatuck Woman's Club, probably in the 1930's, by Edith Reider Barron, discovered in the papers of May FrancisHeath.


Before comingto the heart of our subject, may I tell you a new "Tale of TwoCities" because it is appropriate?


The first cityis Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although there are many moremagnificent spots in our country, there is probably no more charming countrythan that which lies around the City of Philadelphia,and that which was the original site upon which the city was built. Anyone whois familiar with the lovely rolling landscape with its creeks and brooks, itsmagnificent woodlands, in Fairmount and Wissahickon Parks,Valley Forge and the section along the mainline suburbs can vouch for this.


But what of Philadelphia,the city? Putting aside itsinterest as the third city in the United States, as well as its fascination asa shrine of early American history, its residential sections are a wearyrepetition of rows and rows of houses of the same pattern, either twin houses,usually painted alike, or, worse still, solid rows from one end to the next ineach block, without a break even of a narrow passage. With the exception ofapartment houses which are in the minority, this holds for all sections of thecity and even in a number of the suburbs.


What happenedto the beautiful landscape? It is a story of greed and selfishness andstupidity. Those who should have fought to save the natural beauty, let it fallinto the hands of contractors who cut down the oaks and beeches, hemlocks anddogwoods, leveled the ravines, filled up the creeks and built in their placethis hideous monotony because it is cheaper to build uniform houses in uniformrows than to produce architectural dignity and permanence. Then after they havedestroyed these magnificent hardwood trees that have grace and permanence, theyplant rows of cheap poplars in front of the houses. To be sure, the wealthybusinessmen of Philadelphiado not live in the city. They live on handsome estates in the beautiful rollingcountry outside the city. But that does not save the city from being hideous.So did this city sell its birthright of beauty for the contractor's mess of pottage.


But there isanother city which had nothing like the original beauty of environment that Philadelphia had to beginwith, except that it has a number of lakes. This is the city of Orlando, in Florida.Orlando is also located on rolling country although it is not as charming asthe section a little north west of it, including Mount Dora, Leesburg, LakeWales, Eustis and Ocala. Even the lakes, without fine trees, would not make itthe lovely city is, although the native pines have a beauty of their own. Butwhen the city was laid out, there was no effort to flatten it into uniformheight, the roiling character of the ground having been preserved. Finally, avery wise and far seeing man whose name I have forgotten abut who is rememberin Orlando in somewhat the same way that Johnny Appleseedwas memorialized) carefully set out rows and rows of water oaks and live oaks,all over the city. In addition to these there are many fine palm trees. But itis the oaks that are the crowning beauty of the city, now tall magnificent,wide spreading trees, many of them festooned with the beautiful gray moss thatsame of us love so much. The result is that Orlando is known to all northerners as wellas Floridians as one of the most beautiful cities of the south. The lovely bluelakes are clean and well cared for, with magnificent homes all along thecharming avenues that border them. The people of Orlando not only used all of the originalbeauty of environment, but increased it by wise additions.


Now what havethese two cities to do with us in Saugatuck?


Within thevillage the beauty of the magnificent maples, oaks and willows has certainlybeen protected. There has been no effort to level the hill which adds so muchto the charm of the place. and even little Moore's Creek, although ithas been tamed from a wild little sanctuary for wild fowl and birds to a neatlovely stream, is still with us. We have many attractive houses, with severalquite distinguished examples of the very best of colonial architecture, one genuine "Regency" and a number of very goodhomes of more modern types. We have good church buildings, school buildings, a very fine Woman's Club auditorium, one of the finestdancing pavilions in the state. There are a very few shabby buildings; and wehave no monotonous uniformity. Our streets are clean and in good condition. Westill have a few ancient Council trees left from the days when the Indians metwith the whites for conference. They should be guarded and cared for as if theywere invaluable.


But, inaddition to these things, many of which are characteristic of other high class Michigan towns, we haveone feature that is a rarity, not only in the state but in the entire country-- that is our chain ferry. When we hear suggestions that it is time to get ridof this one feature that no one else can boast of, to have a modern bridge, onewonders just how we can get under the skin of these unimaginative persons. Ifthey could only go to Englandand see how the English cherish anything that is ancient and different from thecommon run of things. The hopeful thing is that the high cost of building abridge will be prohibitive for some years to come. The kinds of individuals whocannot see the value of old things are often the kind whofight new taxes.


On the westside of the river, we now have a good road, constantly improving propertyvalues, a greatly improved Ferry Store which, with its living apartment, is nowa thing of beauty, and a very attractive hotel. Of course our great claim toimportance is the magnificent beach. It is probably the village's greatest asset.The officials who are responsible for the upkeep of the beach and the road areto be congratulated. At times, a good many of us would be better pleased if thenative wild flowers and shrubbery were protected and cherished as moreappropriate than any cultivated flowers that could be set out along the road orat the beach itself. Perhaps that is a matter of taste.


It is unfortunate that with so muchwoodland around us, the village itself really owns so little forest of its own.It is said that some years ago, the village did own a large piece ofmagnificent forest as well as its own beach; which was given up much too easilyto another organization. the correctness of thestatement. At present the only woodland that does belong to the village is theroad, with a 100 foot strip of forest, which leads from the river road up tothe water tank, and on westward to the lake. It has always been called"The Indian Trail." Whether it was an Indian trail in reality, I donot know. But it was the loveliest place in the whole 200 acres of woodlandwhen I came her as a guest 28 years ago and stayed to build my own little"House Upon a Hill."


In this lovelytrail, the most beautiful spot was what we called "The Cathedral."(The other equally beautiful spot in all of the forest land hereabout is whatis called "The Temple"in the land owned by the artists' colony.) The approach to "TheCathedral" was a broad, hard path, sloping gradually as it wound offthrough the woods. 0n each side of it there were masses of yew which is oftencalled Ground Hemlock by mistake. That misnomer gives an idea of its beauty.Above the path, were the most magnificent tall trees, oak, hemlock, and a fewpines, which arched their branches so gracefully above the path that theyreminded one of the arches of a cathedral. When thesun shone on that yew, the scene was truly inspiring. Lovers of beauty andartists came to this spot every summer to enjoy it.


You may havenoticed that I speak of it in the past tense. "The Cathedral" isgone. the loveliest spot in the whole forest, which should have continued to bea Mecca for all lovers of natural beauty in our own generation and forgenerations to come, is now a pile of sand, with weeds and great quantities of pokeberry plants growing in it, while, off at one side, masses of yew, still remindus of that beauty that is gone forever.


It seems thatin the winter of 1939, an enterprising village council decided to make a skijump. It was a good idea, if it had been carried out with judgment and a senseof real values. It could have been done without destroying any unusual beauty.But for some reason which can never be satisfactorily explained to many of us,those magnificent trees that formed the cathedral arches above the meanderingpath were felled. What was the motive? Or was it sheer stupidity? Did thosetrees furnish firewood for someone, or was it a mere business deal? I knowwhere some of them are still lying and where others were lying until not sovery long ago. Some of them are still lying in our road, waiting to be takenout by a lumber company,. When I spoke of thisrecently I was assured that the trees that are lying in our road now are allwild cherry trees that fell in last year's severe wind storm. I made a point ofexamining these ten logs that are lying there waiting for the lumber company toremove then, logs that measure from 16 inches to two feet in diameter, logs oftrees that took from one hundred to two hundred years to grown into perfect beauty.Of the ten, just two are wild cherry.


The presentmayor and council, or at least most of them, are not to blame for this colossalblunder, if we wish to call it that. Indeed, I have great confidence in themayor and most of the council members believing that they would not repeat sucha mistake.


Why, then,rake up this distressing business causing friction and criticism after thething is beyond saving?


The reason isthat we elect a new mayor and a new council at frequent intervals. We do notknow when we may have men in power who will sell us out; men who will destroyour birthright for their own mess of pottage. We must do something to preventthis and the Woman's Club can and should take an active part in thisprevention.


Women arenatural conservationists. If women had had more to say about the way thingswere done in development of this country, we would not have the dust bowls,destructive floods, and worn out farmlands that are now having to be correctedand restored. The countries of Europe do notdo these things. In Kew Gardens near London,one single, magnificent tree is given an acre of beautiful lawn to show itsgrandeur. The tree is marked, giving its botanical name and its age. In Germany, Holland,France, Italy and Switzerland, etc., trees are valuedand cared for. We could learn that much from them.


In Saugatuckthere should be a Conservation Committee composed of both men and women whohave no axes to grind, courageous, unselfish persons who will bring honestpressure to bear upon the future councils to see to it, hereafter, that not asingle fine tree is destroyed in these woods that belong to the village. Treesare cared for and saved in the forest land of the Artist's Colony and of Camp Gray.We can well afford to follow their example.


There areplenty of men and women in our village who could serve on this committee, menand women who are not afraid to interfere with the predatory interests orshortsightedness of those who need to be watched; who, if necessary, will bewilling to exercise their nuisance value for the good of the community.


It would be awonderful thing for the people of Saugatuck, if the forest land that is stillleft, should be turned over to the village as a public park in payment of backtaxes, if we can be trusted to take care of it. But if we are not willing toprotect it and fight for it, if necessary, I hope that we shall never getanother foot of woodland.


This committeewould have a delightfully interesting piece of work to do. For instance, withthe village, every council tree that is still standing should be marked. this might be done, also, for the best of the trees in ourparks, giving their botanical, common name and probable age. It could be donein that 100 foot wide stretch of forest that belongs to the village.


A certainamount of reforestation should begin at once. With our high winds and lightsoil there will always be a certain amount of unavoidable destruction. Treesare not eternal, unfortunately. A certain amount of judicious cutting isinevitable. We should certainly replace good trees with hardwoods. The costwould be very small and many of us would be happy to contribute to it.


Certainly thismatter of conservation is important. And The Woman's club is the logical groupto start it and carry it on. Let's go to it!


Edith Reider Barron