On our family walk last night, I took this photo on Main Street between William Street and the South Green. It looks like the battle between the trees and the sidewalk has finally come to an end. Although it doesn't much surprise me, I was sad to see that the trees lost.
This block, on the South end of Main Street, has always made Middletown look a little more like Litchfield or Wethersfield than a city. The old houses here are not original to this site. The buildings between the Baptist Church (corner of Main & William) and the South Green were saved from the redevelopment efforts that wiped out much of the downtown fabric in the 1970's. The late John Reynolds apparently used his considerable capital - social and financial - to rally support for saving a few examples of colonial and federal architecture that were slated for demolition, moving them to this site. This classic streetscape, across from the Inn at Middletown, creates charm and character in this part of downtown. Interestingly, the history this block represents is not just of the old settlement, but of the long tradition in Middletown of citizens arguing for a different way to think about "progress".
At downtown meetings over the years, whenever sidewalk renovations were discussed, I've tried to bring up these specific trees as an example of a place where we need to work as hard as we can to preserve them instead of just cutting them down when the inevitable infrastructure work began. Why? I confess, I'm not much of a tree fanatic. I don't even know what kind they were. But I know that the canopy they provided gave me a little rush of collective memory every time I walked under them. This is what it means to live in New England: old houses, old trees, and a sense of the order that was imposed on this land by those colonists. Maybe even a little bit of "Ye Olde-y Village" fantasy. As I've written here before, those tree-lined streets are our brand, and it's foolhardy to let them go without a fight.
Here's another photo for you.
It's the tree that shades the corner at Thai Gardens. Ten years ago, it had an X on it, waiting for demolition, but Public Works and Mayor Thornton responded to protest and found a way to give the tree room to grow, while continuing the sidewalk replacement. I'm just sorry we couldn't find a way to save the trees in front of the Reynolds houses.
There's no doubt that the sidewalk was in terrible shape in this block. But was there possibly another solution? Moving the sidewalk a few feet? Creating bigger planter areas? Putting more resources into the project? Something else?
These are the questions I would have asked if I'd seen a removal notice on the trees - which the city is supposed to post so that citizens can protest. But if the notices were posted, I just missed them. The trees are down, and saplings will go in. Start the clock. In thirty years, it will make a beautiful snapshot.