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Tree That May Date to Revolution Deserves Landmark Status, Advocates Say

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | October 10, 2012 12:14pm

QUEENS — It's at the root of Woodside's history.

Historians and local community leaders are looking to landmark a giant beech tree in Woodside that may have been planted during the Revolutionary War.

The tree — which is taller than the 5-story building it stands next to — grows on what today is 63rd Street, between Woodside Avenue and Queens Boulevard.

According to Richard Hourahan, collections manager at the Queens Historical Society, some documents indicate that the tree may have been planted by the end of the American Revolutionary War, others that it could date back to the Civil War period, meaning that it is roughly between 150 and 200 years old.

In any case, said Hourahan, “it would be a great survivor.”

Another tree, which for a long time was considered among the oldest in New York, was a weeping beech that grew near the Queens Historical Society headquarters in Flushing.

That tree, which died about 10 years ago, was imported in the late 1840s and had city landmark status, said Hourahan.

Some experts claim that the current oldest tree in New York is an enormous tulip tree in Alley Pond Park in Queens, called the Queens Giant, which might be as old as 400 years.

As for the beech in Woodside, experts are now seeking to determine whether it is a purple beech, which would indicate that it was imported from Europe, or a red beech, which is an American species, Hourahan noted.

The red beech is very hard to chop down, he said, which could help explain the tree’s longevity.

Hourahan is also trying to track down the former landowner, but the parcel may have been part of a farm owned by the Betts family, which settled in the area around 1640, he said.

The tree survived many major changes in the area, including the construction of the Long Island Rail Road and the transformation of farmland into a heavily residential neighborhood.

Joe Conley, chairman of Community Board 2, said that within the past few years, a developer wanted to cut the beech tree down. “But we talked to them and they actually built the building around the tree,” he said.

According to Hourahan, the lifespan of such trees, if left untouched, is between 150 to 200 years, but some reportedly can live up to 400 years.

Once the necessary research is conducted, the results will be presented to the New York Landmark Preservation Commission for consideration.

The LPC was not immediatley available for comment.