Historic tree removed from park after being deemed hazardous

“Old Stumpy” at Madison Square Park, which has actually been around longer than the park has, was considered by arborists to be a falling hazard. (Photo courtesy of the Madison Square Park Conservancy)

By Sabina Mollot

A nearly 300-year-old tree at Madison Square Park that had been popular with visitors has finally faced the chopping block.

It had technically already been dead for years but was kept carefully preserved until recently being deemed a falling hazard.

“We loved that tree but because of pedestrian safety we had to bring it down,” Eric Cova, a spokesperson for the Madison Square Park Conservancy, told Town & Village. “The arborists told us the tree was hollow and had become a danger.”

The English elm had been known as “Old Stumpy” since it was really just the remnants of a tree, a trunk with a few limb stubs remaining.

The relic’s heart-wrenching removal occurred on Valentine’s Day after the conservancy got the nod from the Parks Department.

Cova said some planters will be put in the tree’s place in about 4-6 weeks. In the meantime, the now smoothed-over, empty spot is surrounded by a barrier.

The tree pit will be covered with pavers. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The conservancy wrote on its blog that Old Stumpy’s condition had been deteriorating over the years “and especially over the past several months, the large fissures in the stump had widened even further, increasing the concern that the stump could crack and fall apart… When we began to remove the stump, our fears were confirmed, as much of the stump had completely hollowed, making it structurally unstable.”

There are two other English elms in the park that remain and Cova reported they are healthy. One is at the north end of the Oval Lawn, the other by the Farragut monument.

As for Old Stumpy, its spirit will live on in a children’s book called The Tree, written in 2008 by Stuyvesant Town resident Karen Ruelle.

The book offers some history the tree has witnessed, including during the time before its home was a park. Prior to Madison Square Park opening, the tree had been surrounded by a potter’s field, a cornfield, an arsenal and a home for orphans. According to the book, the natural landmark turned 262 years old this year.

Asked for her thoughts, Ruelle said she was very sorry to see it disappear.

“That very elm tree was a witness to so much of New York’s history,” she said. “It was there before New York was a city and grew up as the city grew around it. And who knows, maybe there’s a little seed under the soil right now waiting to grow into a new elm tree.”

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