SCARBOROUGH — Geraldine Clough was in a somber mood Saturday morning.

She sat on the bottom bench of metal bleachers set up across Route 1 from the prominent old American elm tree she dubbed Elsa nearly 20 years ago. As Clough admired the tree, the town’s public works crew began the process of felling it.

“It’s the last time I’ll ever see her,” said Clough, who recalls naming the tree after the lioness in the movie “Born Free.”

Residents fought to keep Elsa at the Oak Hill intersection at the time, but town officials decided in August that it was time for the nearly 200-year-old elm to come down. The threat of falling limbs was becoming a danger to pedestrians and drivers on Route 1 below.

Elsa managed to survive the Dutch elm disease epidemic that killed tens of millions of elms in the country beginning in the late 1920s. However, on Saturday she met the same fate as Yarmouth’s 217-year-old American elm “Herbie,” which was cut down last year.

“You can see the shape she’s in,” Councilor Carol Rancourt said pointing across the street at the tree’s gnarly, leafless limbs. “On the edge of Route 1 it was a concern if she falls the wrong way into traffic.”

Clough and Rancourt were among 20 people who gathered early Saturday morning to watch as the tree came down, limb by limb. The town had set up bleachers in the parking lot of Amato’s so interested spectators could watch at a safe distance.

Councilor Karen D’Andrea was also there to watch.

“Elsa is one of our oldest denizens,” D’Andrea said. “She represents the strength of our town … It’s remarkable to think how much she’s seen on Route 1.”

D’Andrea has set up a Facebook page “Elsa (Elsie) Elm Tree” in honor of the town’s landmark. She said updates will be posted to the page about celebrations to come, including a tree planting next year.

Elsa will be tested for Dutch elm disease to determine if her roots need to be dug up before more trees are planted. Her rings will also be counted to determine her exact age.

Much like Herbie, Elsa’s wood will be used by local artists to create commemorative works and town officials plan to use any money raised from the sale to fund street trees in the community.

Clough said she had looked at Elsa whenever she drove by. Now that the tree’s gone, she said it will leave a “big empty spot” along Route 1.

“I never thought I’d be so sad about a tree, but I am,” she said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:
ebouthillette@pressherald.com