The massive Copper Beech on 63rd Street between Queens Boulevard and Woodside Avenue is more than just a good climbing spot or place to find summer shade, it’s a glimpse into how Queens was 150 to 250 years ago, according to Queens Historical Society Collections Manager Richard Hourahan.
“It’s a key to the past,” he said.
Joe Conley, Community Board 2 chairman, enlisted the help of the QHS to submit the correct documentation to the New York Landmark Preservation Commission to give the tree landmark status. Hourahan plans to submit the information six months from now.
Landmark status would protect the tree from being cut down as well as present the tree as an educational tool.
“You start with something you can see,” Hourahan said. “It’s a vehicle educationally that could be used to explain the colonial period.”
The beech would be the only landmarked tree in Queens, but not the first. A weeping beech tree was landmarked on the QHS’ land, also where the Kingsland Homestead sits, in Flushing. The tree died about 10 years ago from a disease.
But before landmark status is granted there are many things that need to be nailed down. The two major details are age and species.
Hourahan estimates that the Copper Beech was planted at the end of the American Revolution or as early as the Civil War, as first reported in DNA info, which makes the tree 150 to 250 years old. The historical society will coordinate with an expert to collect that data.
The next milestone is determining if the tree is a European Beech or an American Beech — “it’s very easy for trees to look the same,” Hourahan said.
The European Copper Beech would represent a romantic movement and style of European landscaping, like those seen at iconic manors from Jane Austin’s time. Individuals didn’t plant just one European Copper Beech, Hourahan said, instead they plant many to make a statement. President Thomas Jefferson designed Monticello, his primary plantation, in that way.
The research could also be submitted to the Library of Congress, which collects information on historic landscaping.
If the Woodside relic turns out to be an American Copper Beech it would mean the tree is an “amazing survivor,” Hourahan said. The American Beech was a hardwood that was cut down by the bundle to build boats. Not many remain.
One fact already determined is that the tree sits between where the Sackett and Betts families lived, early European immigrants with large estates on which they used to grow grain.
The tree was almost cut down a few years ago when a developer planned to build the apartment complex now there. However, the community board met with the builders and they “built the building around the tree,” Conley said.
CB 2 tried for the landmark status about a decade ago, but was turned down because of lack of specific historical evidence, which Hourahan plans on finding this time around.