Cherry Tree Survives 65 Years at Andover, Continues to Usher in Springtime at PA

In between Samuel Phillips Hall and Morse Hall stands an iconic cherry tree, rooted in Andover’s soil and history. At this time of spring, the tree flowers, and its cherry blossom petals begin to sprinkle the sidewalks between the two buildings. The 65-year-old tree is lucky to have reached such maturity—it has faced two threats of destruction in the past two decades. “The tree has been through some big turmoil,” said Thomas Cone, Instructor in Biology and member of the Campus Beautification Society. In 1960, at the completion of Andover’s then-new science center, Evans Hall, some faculty members considered cutting down the tree because it blocked the view of the new science building. The tree was spared then, but in 2004 it was threatened again for the very same reason. The completion of the new Gelb Science Center in 2004 also brought a new wave of peril for the cherry tree. “Some people felt that the cherry tree obscured the sightline to the new building, and if you spent millions of dollars on a new building, you wanted it to be visible,” said Ruth Quattlebaum, School Archivist. Marc Koolen, Instructor of Biology, said that the motion to cut down the cherry tree “didn’t go over so well here. I don’t think anyone in the entire building [Gelb] wanted it to be cut down.” The PA community’s opposition to the felling of the cherry tree saved it from death, said Quattlebaum. Students “rallied to the cause,” said Quattlebaum. “I don’t remember any demonstrations, but I do remember a huge buzz about it. It was one of those times with a lot of conversation between students and faculty. It was discussed fairly widely.” “Those students were like hornets,” said Cone. “Students threatened to hug the tree and sit in a circle around the tree if they were going to bring out chainsaws to cut the tree down, but the chainsaws never came.” Koolen said, “We didn’t organize anything. It just happened that there were people who put signs up – ‘save the tree.’ In between classes they would go sit down under [the tree] to make sure no one came with a chainsaw.” The architects of Gelb themselves favored the preservation of the cherry tree. Cone said, “Some architects found out there was a move to cut down the tree and they actually liked it where it was. They got a photographer and they took a picture of it with Gelb in the background.” The resulting picture helped to convince the administration to keep the cherry tree. On May 7, 2004, Barbara Chase, Head of School, sent an email to faculty, staff and students stating that the Deans Council had decided to “spare the cherry tree between Sam Phil and Morse Hall.” In response, the Andover community celebrated. “There was a big sign on the cherry tree at one point, after they decided it would stay, that said, ‘Thank you for saving me. From the Cherry Tree,’” Quattlebaum said. The cherry tree’s blossoming has become a yearly welcoming of the New England spring. Cone said that many students take photographs of the tree as it blooms, and this year was no different. “I bet I saw fifty students taking a picture of it, all the cell phones coming out. It means something to people,” he said. Cone said that the colorful cherry tree was just as important as having colorful flowers, and that the campus beautification was important for students, faculty and staff alike. Quattlebaum said that she believes that the presence of the cherry tree here on campus is something that stays true to the original vision of the architect of Andover, Thomas Cochran. She said that one of Cochran’s dreams was to create a campus guided by a phrase from English Romantic poet John Keats, that a “thing of beauty is a joy forever.” For now, the cherry tree will remain on campus until its natural death. Each passing year takes its toll on the tree, and wires already support the tree’s weakening branches. “It’s not the healthiest tree…Less than a decade and it will probably be gone,” said Koolen. The cherry tree was planted by Andover’s Society for the Propagation of Japanese Cherry Trees, a club founded in 1954. The club started out as a faculty committee, but opened its doors to students in the mid-1970s. Another cherry tree, about 15 years old, was planted on the Gelb Lawn so that, when the time does come for the older tree to die, Andover will still have a cherry tree. Quattlebaum said that the new cherry tree, however, might have a difficult time matching the full bloom of the older cherry tree. “It’s unusually large and robust for a cherry tree, part of which is why it is so special, all of which could have been its undoing,” she said.