Committee reverses decision to remove Main Street tree at recent meeting

After a unanimous vote to remove and replace the 65-foot-tall tree, members of the committee looked for alternative options to rescind their votes

Harrison Township Committee, historical society and community members deliberated on the fate of the well-known tree located in front of the Old Town Hall Museum, used as a beacon for the annual Lights on Main extravaganza. At last week’s meeting, a unanimous vote reversed the committee’s decision to remove the tree and replace it with an artificial piece.

After weeks of conversation and deliberation with the community and Harrison Township Historical Society, the township committee voted unanimously to rescind its decision to cut down and replace the 65-foot-tall tree located next to the Old Town Hall Museum, most popularly known as the Lights on Main Christmas tree.

Harrison Township Committee had voted unanimously at the Sept. 1 work session to take down the large tree on Main Street and instead put up an artificial replacement, as the township saw the maintenance of the tree, stringing the holiday lights and taking them down each year, as well as replacing any broken bulbs or components when necessary, a financial burden.

According to Mayor Louis Manzo, at last week’s meeting, the township was faced with spending more than $10,000 this year to keep the tree as is and to take the lights off, along with additional costs that would occur in preparation of the Nov. 25 Lights on Main event. An artificial tree would be a one-time cost of approximately $20,000, Manzo said.

The idea of replacing the existing tree with a new live tree was considered, however the risk outweighed the possibilities, as many were concerned with not only keeping the new tree alive upon transfer, but after attending the historical society’s board meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 13, Manzo said, the idea of relocating the WWI memorial monument below the existing tree was unanimously refused.

According to resident and historical society member Barbara Ridgway, the tree found its way to the Main Street location in the early 1950s. At the time, the township had used a flagpole, forming a Christmas tree with metal rods that had large, round, colorful light bulbs strung all around. It wasn’t until a young Edward Duffield “almost impaled himself” on the metal rods, that banker and father Arthur Duffield decided to donate a tree from their yard, on what is now known as Spicer Street, to be used as a Christmas tree. About 30 years ago, Ridgway said, the historical society took on the responsibilities of lighting the tree each year on the first Friday of December. It wasn’t until 2011 the duty was passed on to the township with the creation of Lights on Main, a holiday extravaganza drawing more than 5,000 people each year. Ridgway said the tree has become a staple of the community, acting as a focal point seen from one end of the township to the other.

“The tree at Old Town Hall has grown to heights that have made it visible from the northern and southern ends of town and beyond,” said historical society member and resident Judy Suplee. “It has grown into the hearts of those who treasure the tradition it has become.”

Although the committee had passed the resolution to remove the tree and move forward with ordering an artificial replacement at the work session meeting, after hearing from many members of the historical society and community, Manzo said, he felt moved to seek alternative options.

“We can’t go back once we cut the tree down,” Manzo said. “I speak for myself when I say, after several conversations … I don’t think we should cut the tree down.”

Manzo suggested the committee use the money allocated to take all of the old lighting off the existing tree, prune the tree and ensure it is in good health and purchase new lighting to be strung for the upcoming Lights on Main event. As well, he proposed the township take down the lighting in January to guarantee it is safely stored to extend its lifespan.

“We’re probably going to spend around the same amount of money,” Manzo said. “Then, we have time between now and next summer to decide if we are going to have this maintenance be a part of our fiscal budget on an annual basis, or are we going to have that be a private fundraiser event on an annual basis.”

Following the unanimous vote to cancel the contract made for an artificial tree replacement and approving the purchase of new tree lighting, in an amount not to exceed $7,500, Committeeman Don Heim kicked-off the fundraising by announcing Harrison Township Youth Basketball would donate $2,000 if the funding is to be raised by fundraising each year.

“We need to give back and that’s how we can give back to everybody,” Heim said.

Members of the Harrison Township Historical Society thanked the committee members and Manzo for letting their voices be heard, providing support and the opportunity for collaboration on the decision that was made.

“Both the decision to remove and replace was a good decision,” historical society member and resident Chris Knisely said. “To go in another direction is a good decision.”