300 Years On Campus: Great Elm Preserved During OWHL Renovation

Gingrich assumes responsibility for the health and protection of the tree.

Over the course of 300 years, Andover’s prominent Great Elm Tree has stood in its place at the center of campus since before the school’s founding and even when George Washington visited campus, according to David Gingrich, Account Representative for the Davey Tree Expert Company.

Recently, however, the Great Elm Tree has been surrounded by chain link fences, renovation machinery, and construction equipment due to the renovation of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. The construction project has shut off the path from Paresky Commons to the Great Lawn and has prevented students from walking beneath the tree.

According to Gingrich, the renovation could result in dust on the tree’s foliage or a broken limb, which would hinder the tree’s opportunities to photosynthesize. Soil compaction due to the heavy construction equipment may also be a problem and would result in decreased oxygen flow to the root system. Gingrich visits campus two to three times a month to check on the tree, and in addition to Gingrich’s extra precautions to ensure the tree’s safety during the renovation, a regular routine is in place to maintain the tree’s health.

On June 13, the Phillips Andover YouTube account released a video entitled “The Great Elm Tree,” in which Gingrich explains the history and care of the tree.

In the video Gingrich said, “The tree is treated every three years with a systemic fungicide to ward off Dutch Elm Disease. That’s the killer of elm trees. We’ve also gone one step further with the Great Elm, and we do a structural pruning every five years. That will come due in 2019. We have a crew up here for two days in the wintertime, and they go through the tree and they bring back the canopy to reduce the weight on the bearing limbs of the tree.”

Gingrich postulates that the tree has lived so long because it is not as tall as the average American elm. Its shorter stature and broad canopy may have added to its longevity.

Gingrich wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “This tree with its majestic beauty and stature has helped create a lasting impression on all who have walked under its outstretched canopy on a hot day or witnessed a snowfall embracing its limbs in the midst of winter. It is truly a blessing for all the students, alumni, faculty, and community as a whole.”

Last year, Charlotte Toogood ’20 lived in Day House, which is located right next to the Great Elm.

Toogood said, “When I was living in Day, I would love going to the other side because I lived on the library side. The girl in the top corner, Marieta [Rojas ’18], had a room overlooking the tree. The afternoon sun would go through the tree, and it was so beautiful. I was so jealous of her because I just had the library on my side.”

Now that the Great Elm is surrounded by fences, some new students have not yet been able to see the tree.

Alicia Chu ’22 said, “I haven’t seen it, but I’m sure it’s really pretty. I’m not really sure what it looks like. I definitely think it would be cool to see.”

Toogood said, “I think it is important that it’s shown to the new kids who have never seen it. It makes that walkway between [Paresky] and the Great Lawn really nice and pretty.”

Although it obscures the view of the tree, the fence was implemented in protection of the Great Elm.

Gingrich wrote, “A fence has been erected to help keep the tree protected as much as possible from the work going on around it. We will also be looking at the tree once the construction is done for any remedial treatments that are needed, like air spading to reduce compaction and pruning to help repair breaks in the crown of the plant.”

Through his efforts, Gingrich says he hopes that the tree will be around for many more people to see and enjoy.

Gingrich wrote, “I hope the Great Elm is around for another one hundred years, at least.”


For more, check out Phillips Academy’s video on “The Great Elm Tree” here.