Saying Goodbye to a Witness Tree: Tulip Tree To Be Removed at Old Ordinary

The Old Ordinary in Hingham in 1972.
The Old Ordinary in Hingham in 1972.
October 28, 2020 by the Hingham Historical Society. Deirdre Anderson, Executive Director. Photos courtesy of Hingham Historical Society.

The Hingham Historical Society invites the community to share its reflections on the removal of the venerable Tulip Tree from its Old Ordinary property at 21 Lincoln Street.  After gracing the crest of Lincoln Street—and providing shade to the Old Ordinary—for about 150 years, the Tulip Tree has to come down.  After receiving a risk assessment from Bartlett Tree Experts and input from a second arborist earlier this year, and following discussion with the Town of Hingham’s Shade Tree Committee, the Society has contracted with Maltby &  Co. to remove the tree.

The Old Ordinary in 1900.

It is reported that the Tulip Tre was planted in 1863 by Henry Augustus Wilder, a son of Old Ordinary tavern-keeper Abiel Wilder and his wife Deborah Humphrey. If true, the tree has graced the property for 157 years.  Its particular species, liriodendron tulipifera, is known to be among the tallest trees to grow east of the Mississippi—and this one is no exception.  Tulip trees are fast-growing and have been a popular choice, particularly in the southeast, throughout history; for example, George Washington planted tulip trees at Mount Vernon which grew to 140’ tall.  The tulip tree is the state tree of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana.

The Old Ordinary in 1935.

For these many years, the tulip tree at the Old Ordinary has provided wonderful shade, colorful fall foliage, and botanical interest with its uniquely shaped leaves and tulip-shaped flowers that bloom each May and June—just in time to welcome the Town’s fifth-graders to the Lincoln Street property for our annual school tours.

The 1863 date for the planting of the tulip tree comes from a memoir of the house written by Mary L. Wilder, whose grandparents, Abiel and Deborah Wilder, and their family lived in the home and operated a tavern and livery stable there during the first half of the 19th century.  As we prepare to mourn the tree, one silver lining is that we will be able to learn more about its lifespan when we count its tree rings, and this may in turn help us date our many photographs of the Old Ordinary and the architectural evolution of the house itself.

A long-time supporter of the Society has generously offered to remove and store the wood once the tulip tree has been taken down.  Once it has seasoned,  the Society plans to mill the wood and craft it into useable pieces of furniture and other memorabilia.

Tulip Tree damage from a 2020 wind storm at the Old Ordinary.

The streetscape will change with the removal of the tulip tree but it is necessary to protect Lincoln Street, our neighbors’ homes, and the historic Old Ordinary itself.

The Hingham Historical Society, founded in 1914, is a member-supported non-profit organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, and celebrating the history of the town of Hingham, Massachusetts. It offers educational programs, exhibits, and year-round activities for all those who seek to gain a deeper appreciation of our community’s and our nation’s history. If you know the history of Hingham, you know the history of America.

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