Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


January 3, 2013

Dalton column: Devastation of town trees

“Nothing can replace for this generation the trees that have been entirely destroyed,” wrote Andover Townsman editor John N. Cole, on Dec. 2, 1921. Just a week earlier, in his editorial of Nov. 25, 1921, he had joined the Andover Village Improvement Society in the fight to save trees from the ravages of tent and gypsy moth larvae.

Founded in 1894, the Andover Village Improvement Society (AVIS) had as one of its goals the preservation of trees. It would be hard to find a town that has been so lucky to have such an organization. Although in recent decades its success has centered on acquiring land for conservation and the creation of woodland trails, in its early years some of its projects were smaller. One of those early projects was fighting tent moth larvae by paying children to bring larvae nests to school in order that the nests be destroyed.

During the foliage season in 1921, the tent and gypsy moth larvae coincidentally appeared together en masse, stripping the town’s trees. My father once told me that cars skidded on the larvae and their droppings. I remember the gypsy moth attack in the early 1980s when larvae’s leaf chewing was an audible droning sound while they stripped trees bare. We wondered if stripped trees would survive – almost all did.

It was bitterly ironic to Cole that, within 72 hours of the publication of his anti-moth editorial, the moth problem slipped into the background, because on Nov. 28, 1921, the “most devastating storm on record” (Townsman) destroyed many of Andover’s trees and downed its power and telephone lines. It was a storm that went far beyond what some people like to call “nature’s pruning.” It was destruction on a large scale.

The Townsman’s front page headline after the storm was “HAVOC WROUGHT BY ICE STORM.” The story accompanying the headline described how, on Sunday, snow and sleet loaded the trees with a great burden, and high winds finished nature’s escapade. Throughout Monday, said the Townsman, the “crack and crash of falling boughs were heard all over.” Elm trees, particularly on Phillips Academy’s campus, suffered mightily. Several historic trees were ruined, one of them an iconic chestnut tree that stood next to the Memorial Hall Library.

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