Calling the towering sentinel in her front yard the “Grandpa” tree, a Gem Lake woman said goodbye last week to the ancient landmark. It has stood on the property for almost 200 years.
“Sadly, Timberline Tree said it could not be saved,” said Gretchen Artig-Swomley. “The tree is so big it has to come down over the course of two days. They are thinking they need to bring another crane.”
The gargantuan silver maple has a circumference of more than 17 feet. “That means it is about 194 years old, or from about the year 1825,” according to Artig-Swomley.
The abstract of title for her Gem Lake property dates back to 1854 when the land was part of a 200-acre parcel used mostly for farming. It changed hands about a dozen times and was whittled away through the years through many transfers, sales and auctions, several for back taxes, to its present size of 18 acres, upon which the original house, built in 1896, and big tree sit. One of the owners in the ’20s was Gokey Thompson, who went on to found Gokey's Sporting Goods.
“Somewhere along the line the property was named Fairweather Farm, but no one seems to know where it got that name,” noted Artig-Swomley. “There was a stable on the property that partially collapsed years ago. No one knows who planted this tree.
“When we moved into our home in 1998, one of the most striking features about the place was the enormous silver maple tree in the front yard. It was more than double the height of the house, towering about 75 feet in the air or more.
“We have lovingly cared for this tree for 21 years; having it trimmed and pruned to keep it balanced and happy every couple of years,” said Artig-Swomley. “The tree company says it is the largest and most spectacular tree they care for and possibly the largest in the White Bear area.”
Regretfully, the tree was damaged in a 2015 storm and was starting to show its age, she said.
Artig-Swomley, who sits on Gem Lake's City Council, wanted to reach out to the Press as the tree neared the end of its natural life. A huge limb crashed down on the corner of her house on June 4, causing significant damage. Timberline experts climbed the tree to determine its overall health and the news was not good. It could not be saved.
“I have always felt this tree has a soul and has sheltered our house,” she said. “I think this limb coming down may have been a blessing. Perhaps the tree was trying to tell us it can't keep standing much longer. The limb that came down was the size of a large tree and put a 2-foot hole in our brick sidewalk, as well as taking out a bit of our roof. We realize the tree, without meaning to, has become a menace to our safety.”
She is very sad about cutting the tree down, added the councilwoman.