CUMBERLAND — For at least five decades, the spruce tree that stood in the center of town was a fixture every holiday season, when its branches would be illuminated with strings of multicolored lights.

Occasionally, those branches would catch fire, thanks to the power lines that ran through them. And then disease struck the tall and lanky tree, numbering its days and forcing the town to remove it this autumn.

Now a new tree, planted in a sleeve in the ground, stands near where the former tree stood, at the southeast corner of Tuttle Road and Main Street. But temporary trees are only that, and the town is looking for a spot where a permanent successor can grow.

“It’s been a challenge, from a safety standpoint,” Town Manager Bill Shane said Dec. 11, to have a tree that had grown tall enough – more than 50 feet – for its branches to intertwine with power and telephone lines. “It caught fire at least three times that I know of. … It is surprising that we hadn’t had more issues. … Every year it was just, keep your fingers crossed that we can get through another year.”

The tree’s temporary successor is about 16 feet tall, which avoids any electrical entanglements.

Besides the original being a fire hazard, an arborist determined that spruce budworm was killing the tree, and that it needed to come down.

“It wasn’t going to get any better; it was just going to die,” Assistant Town Manager Chris Bolduc said. “And the lights on the tree were out. We were going to have to pull them all down and replace (them) for about a $4,000 cost. Didn’t really make sense to put them on that tree.”

The tree was expected to live less than two more years, Shane said. Other similar trees along the corridor are dying, too, and could fall on power lines if they aren’t brought down in advance, he added.

The spruce was chipped, because it wasn’t of lumber quality, Bolduc said. It’s replacement, a pine from Skillins Greenhouses, was selected after a search for trees on some Cumberland properties proved unsuccessful. It will be removed after the holidays.

Temporary trees may be the tradition the next few years until the town can determine a more permanent solution. Plus it will take a few years for a newly planted tree to gain suitable height.

“A lot of people would see that (old) tree from a long way away, and they could see the lights on it, and it really kind of symbolized home,” Shane said.

He said he has heard from many residents who are sad it had to come down, noting that “traditions are hard to break. And this tradition has been around a long time. (But) we’re trying to come back with something that will eventually get to becoming a centerpiece.”

Among nearby parcels the town is exploring is the Cumberland Congregational Church, which has an island in between the two points where its circular driveway meets Main Street.

“That island would be an ideal place, because it’s seen in both directions,” Shane said. “It doesn’t cause any sight issues in either direction, and there are no wires about it.”

For now, a monument to the Cumberland lives lost in the American Civil War, which was overshadowed by the original tree, has its place in the sun.

“With the tree gone, the original monument is really the centerpiece of that intersection,” Shane said. “… Cumberland paid its toll in the Civil War, and that recognition monument was a really important piece of history for the town. So that being the prominent feature of the intersection is not a bad thing.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A roughly 50-foot spruce tree that Cumberland decorated with Christmas lights for decades is now gone. In its place is a temporary pine tree about a third of the old tree’s height. The shorter tree allows a better view of the American Civil War memorial at the corner of Main Street and Tuttle Road.

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