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Duke Mansion Cuts Down A Tree Older Than Charlotte

North Carolina lost a lot of old trees this year to storms, like hurricanes Florence and Michael. Those made the headlines along with storm coverage. But hundreds more didn’t, like the two-century-old granddaddy of a tree cut down this week at The Duke Mansion in Charlotte.

For property owners, letting go of an old tree is always hard. More so if it's the backdrop to a historic house like The Duke Mansion, off Providence Road in Charlotte.

This one was eight feet around at the trunk, 100 feet high, and towered over the mansion’s back garden. Development director Pat Martin talked as workers removed the ancient tree, piece by piece.

“Today, unfortunately, we're taking down a probably 200-plus-year old tulip poplar, and it's coming down simply because it's just not healthy enough to keep it,” Martin said.

After cutting it down, arborists now estimate the tree was older than the City of Charlotte — 250 to 275 years old. That's also a century-and-a-half older than The Duke Mansion, which is itself a survivor of fire and age.

The 20-bedroom house was built in 1915 and later expanded by its most famous owner, industrialist James Buchanan Duke. He made his fortune in the monopoly American Tobacco Company, founded Duke Power, and gave a chunk of money to the college that later took his name, Duke University.  

Martin said the tulip poplar has its own history of trauma and neglect. 

“At some point, it had been hit by lightning. When we first started having arborists look at it, there was a fair amount of damage at the top, which they've been working on … and just to take … you know trees are like people they just age out,” she said.

The Duke Mansion hosts weddings, conferences and other events, and Martin says they couldn't risk having it fall during a gathering. Cutting it was a practical decision, but not without a few tears.

“When you get to this point with a tree that is this beautiful, it is obviously emotional to say we're going to give up on it. But it wasn't a hard decision, because the arborist told us that we really had done all we could to keep it and have it be a safe tree. And at the point when it's not safe anymore you don't have a choice, you have to take it down,” Martin said.  

The space won't stay empty for long. They've already planted other trees nearby and Martin says they'll plant as large a tree as they can in its place. As for the old poplar - at least part will be recycled by Carolina Urban Lumber, a company that makes furniture from historic local trees.


Duke Mansion website, www.dukemansion.com

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.