Salvaged wood from iconic Southold tree to be transformed

Linda Carlson stood outside Bridgehampton National Bank in Southold Tuesday staring up at an 85-foot copper beech tree that has towered over the property for more than a century. Ms. Carlson, the bank’s branch manager, watched as the tree was slowly cut down to a stump.

“We are really sad,” Ms. Carlson said. ‘It really made such an impression when you pulled around the back of the parking lot. It won’t be the same.”

The tree, with a 17 1/2-foot circumference, is believed to be one of the oldest in Southold Town, according to arborist Michael Johnson and the Southold Historical Society, dating back about 140 years, although its exact age has not been confirmed.

About three years ago, the venerable tree was diagnosed with bleeding canker disease, a fairly common condition that causes trees to ooze sap and form lesions. The discovery confronted the bank with a difficult decision on how to proceed. There’s currently no chemical cure for the disease and an adjacent copper beech tree, also very old, was still unaffected.

Derek Bossen of the Southold Tree Committee confirmed for the bank that the one tree was dead, posed a threat and could possibly fall, according to Deborah Cosgrove, the bank’s facilities manager.

The tree had to go, they determined, but its legacy could live on. The goal now is to salvage the wood and use it to create an object, such as a bench or table, that can be donated to the Southold Historical Society and will likely be placed in a public location to be determined.

“We’ve been proactively working with the Southold Tree Committee and [Mr. Johnson] and they agreed it has become a detriment,” said Claudia Pilato, director of marketing at the bank.

“We have to take it down but we wanted to honor it in some way,” Ms. Pilato added, noting that the bank feared community members might be upset to see the tree come down.

On Tuesday, Mr. Johnson, owner of Johnson Tree Company in Orient, and one of four men on the removal crew, stood in a crane and used a chain saw to carefully remove its branches.

He will take the lead on transforming the tree into something the public can enjoy. He has a background in sculpture and furniture design, and has done similar projects.

“It has a scope that’s really big, and through the size of the object you will still feel the age of this tree,” Mr. Johnson said. “If you make something large everyone will think, ‘Wow, that must be a really old tree.’”

He said he could even make the tree into a sculpture of some kind, but the historical society has not yet decided what approach to take. Beech trees don’t typically make ideal outdoor furniture, Mr. Johnson said, adding that he will meet with bank officials and the historical society to discuss options.

Bridgehampton National Bank will also donate $1,000 to the Southold Tree Committee in honor of the tree, which was referenced in a 1967 article published in the Long Island Traveler Watchman when the building was constructed.

“Two copper beech and one sugar maple tree, believed to be over 120 years old, were carefully preserved and enhance the beauty of this one-story, brick building,” the article stated.

An unveiling ceremony will take place when the wood from the tree has been transformed into something new.

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Top photo: Michael Johnson, owner of Johnson Tree Company, was in charge of taking down the tree in Southold, and will turn it into an object. (Credit: Rachel Siford)

CORRECTION: Derek Bossen’s name was misspelled in an earlier version and he is a member of the Southold Tree Committee. The tree’s circumference was incorrectly listed as the diameter.

The 85-foot copper beech tree was cut down piece by piece. (Credit: Rachel Siford)