GHENT — On a beautiful early fall day like any other, Ghent residents may have been surprised to see an unfamiliar sight as they drove on a stretch of Route 66 through Ghent that over the decades has undergone little change: A man on a cherry-picker cutting down an enormous black walnut tree.
Those who know the area well might have been slightly desensitized to the peculiarity of the massive black walnut tree growing through the front porch of the house on Route 66, just past the Bartlett House heading north. In such a picturesque town that in many ways hasn’t changed since the 19th century, the house with the tree in it looked more like something out of a Dr. Suess book than a postcard.
But on Friday, drivers slowed down and rubbernecked as they passed that famous tree being cut down, piece by piece.
Russ Kipp, the new owner of the house, said he had to cut it down; there was no way to get the house insured with the tree going through the porch.
Kipp, who grew up in Niverville and currently lives in Connecticut, bought the house a little over a month ago.
“I was looking for something new and my family is from the area,” he said.
He assumed he wouldn’t have any issues purchasing homeowner’s insurance. In fact, Kipp said the pictures online of the tree, which he believes to be well over 100 years old, really didn’t do it justice and he didn’t grasp its size until he saw it in person.
He came to find, however, that the home has probably not been insured since the 1980s. When the insurance agency saw the tree, it gave Kipp no more than a month to have it removed. After calling all of the agencies he could find, who all denied him coverage as long as the tree was in that front porch, he was left with a choice: insurance or tree. He chose the insurance.
So with very limited time, Kipp found someone to cut down the tree, setting him back a few thousand dollars.
Before the tree could be removed, Kipp also had to remove the porch through which it grew, changing the landscape of the house even more. But he was rewarded when underneath the porch he found a variety of different antique bottles, including a Breeze Hill Dairy milk bottle from Chatham, further symbolizing the time that had passed. Similar bottles can be found on eBay going for hundreds of dollars.
The tree’s removal began on Friday and watching it come down illuminated just how large its branches really were. Branch after branch was cut down, leaving massive piles lying next to the house. Every time it looked as if the tree was beginning to appear bare, a quick walk to its other side would reveal more heavy branches.
Charles Wood, who owns the house next door, said that he is both sad and happy to see the tree come down. His family has owned his house for three generations and he said the tree has always been there. He remembers watching parades go down Route 66 from underneath that tree.
However, living next to such a massive black walnut tree does have its consequences, he said.
“I will not miss rolling my ankles,” Wood said, referring to the fruit that fell from seemingly every inch of the tree. The green, dense fruit makes quite the frightening noise when it lands on your car, he added.
Small branches and leaves are being disposed of, but Kipp hopes to sell some of the wood from the tree to people in the area who might like to craft furniture or something else out of the icon — in a way honoring its passing, but keeping it alive. However, he’d first like to be able to count the tree’s rings to determine its exact age.
While there are documents that identify the house’s age, Kipp has been unable to find any pictures or records that could shed light on the tree’s exact age. And the question of whether the porch was built before or after the tree began to grow remains unanswered.
While new ownership means the demise of this iconic tree, it also might be something of a blessing for the house itself, which has stood since the late 19th century. Kipp has already begun renovating the interior of the house, which has for some time now been split into two separate apartments.
He said he hopes to keep the building as two apartments, renting out one and maybe keeping the other for his own use to be close to family. He hopes the house, which has been in a state of disrepair for quite some time, will be ready in about six months.
Kipp is also now the owner of the red barn than stands beside the house. The barn used to be connected to the Bartlett House. Travelers through Ghent would stop for a rest at the Bartlett House and back then, needed a stable to leave their horses. Since then, the barn has essentially gone unchanged and remains in good condition today.
Digging through Ghent Town records, it’s difficult to find any solid clues as to exactly how long the famous tree has stood along Route 66, but the pictures and documents do provide context to a town that doesn’t change too often. This time, however, is one exception.