Published in the January 8, 2016 edition.


WAKEFIELD — When the audience arrives at the Unitarian-Universalist Church for Saturday night’s big “Southern Rail” concert at the Linden Tree Coffeehouse, something will be missing.

The majestic linden tree that lent its name to the coffeehouse 31 years ago and has graced the front of the church for longer than anyone has been alive, was taken down yesterday morning.

“There was a lot of evidence that it was dying,” said church member Peter Stickel, who added that there was concern that the tree could drop one of its large branches and injure someone. Its roots were also starting to push up and damage the pavement of the walkway leading into the church, creating a potential walking hazard.

Those concerns were confirmed by the crew that removed the tree yesterday. They pointed out that some of the larger tree limbs and parts of the trunk were little more than hollow shells covered with bark. In recent years, strong winds have caused large limbs to fall from the tree, which sat just feet from the sidewalk.

No one knows exactly how old the beloved linden tree was, but it was believed to be between 100 and 120 years old. Stickel said that the church has photos from 1881 and the tree was not there. But it starts appearing in later photos.

“The tree meant a lot to the people in the church,” Stickel said.

Wendy Dennis, another church member, agreed.

“It’s sad to see it go,” she said. But she likened it to the church’s old steeple that was damaged and had to be removed in 2008 before it had a chance to fall down and hurt someone.

Dennis noted that in addition to the coffeehouse, the tree lent its name to the “Linden Tree Food Coop,” which orders a variety of food, household products, personal care items, pet items, etc. for its members each month.

Liz Freeman, who has run the Linden Tree Coffeehouse for many years, had a particular attachment to the tree. She said that as much of the wood as could be salvaged from the tree would be set aside for church members. She pointed out that linden wood, also known as “basswood” is a favorite of woodcarvers and is used in making puppets. She said that her husband, Joe Spear, does woodcarving and hoped to reclaim some of the wood. She also said that several puppet makers had expressed an interest in wood from the linden tree.

“It’s said to see it go,” she said.

Church president Joe Cresta said that the removal of the tree was part of some other changes that are going on with the church. He noted that the church has an agreement with Shelter Development, which is building a new Brightview Senior Living facility behind the church. Their crew was going to be taking down some trees along Crescent Street, Cresta said, so as part of the church’s agreement with Shelter it made sense for them take down the linden tree at the same time.

That agreement also calls for Shelter to do some significant landscaping around the church to help with drainage issues. Shelter is planning to construct a lighted walking path along the side of the church to give Brightview residents easy access to Main Street.

Cresta said that Shelter will have a crew come back in the spring when the ground is warmer to remove the tree stump and roots. Shelter has also agreed to repave the front of the church, Cresta said.

He said that the church plans to plant a new tree at some point, probably in a couple of years. He said it could be a new linden tree or some other species. But Cresta said that the church would wait to see how the new landscaping develops before deciding exactly where to place the new tree.

Cresta did see one silver lining to the removal of the linden tree: It makes the beauty of Wakefield’s oldest house of worship much more visible.

“Now the architecture just hits you,” he said. He hopes that it will give more people incentive to donate to help the church crown the top with something to replace the steeple.

He said that the new lighted walkway along the side and the landscaping that Shelter is helping the church with will be a big improvement.

“It really will look nice,” Cresta said. “Once we can crown that top, it will be so beautiful.”