Fairfield to the Farms

In the fall of 1972, after all the houses and the people were gone, all that remained was for the loggers to strip away the timber and the chain saws to gnaw off everything that resembled a navigation hazard. Nothing was left.

The bulldozers and the arsonists and the scavengers had stripped Fairfield bare.

The opportunities remained for anybody who could salvage anything that mattered.

Like a sugar maple.

As the story goes, word got around that the Whitewater Valley contained some desirable trees if one had the resources to dig them up and haul them away. A few of them qualified, including one in front of where the Methodist Church stood. The sugar maple, about 50 feet high and 18 inches in diameter, was identified by a Richmond arborist named Donald Antrim. He was apparently part of a larger ring of people who paid attention to that sort of thing and who coveted trees they could easy get at . . . trees that weren't already owned by somebody.

Fairfield obviously qualified.

Enter a woman named Laura Evans Ford Winans, who came from wealth, didn't mind spending it . . . and who just so happened to want to import big trees onto her estate in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich. Ah, it wasn't a sport for factory workers. Mrs. Winans decided to have the tree dug up and moved to Michigan.

The Richmond newspaper at the time said the tree was slowly extracted by a half-dozen men, loaded onto a low-boy and snaked northward, avoiding turns it couldn't make, bridges it couldn't cross and towns it couldn't negotiate. In all, the tree went on a 400-mile odyssey.

And that was that.

The article caught my attention during a read of Town Under the Lake and I decided to go after the tree. Is it still living? Where is it? Who cares?

Dick Huhn, director at the Grosse Pointe Parks and Recreation Department, steered me to Laura Winans, or close enough. Laura died in 2011 and her ex-husband lives in Florida. Phone contact with him led me back to Michigan, where I was able to give Huhn the address where the tree was located.

Having no idea if the current owners knew of the tree's history or what to even look for on the land, Huhn asked people who knew -- the people who landscape the property.

He isn't totally certain this is the tree, but the owners seem to think it is -- and it's close enough for federal government work. "We're 99 percent sure," he said in a email.

It seems to be healthy enough, Huhn and his associate said. It would seem the tree has been pruned and maintained. I expected a slightly larger tree, which leads me to be slightly apprehensive. The tree would be about 60 years old. The long move would have stunted its growth depending on how badly the roots were damaged during extraction.

Still, even if it isn't the tree, we've learned that our roots spread pretty far.

It's just damned hard to get rid of us, isn't it?

-- John, October 2014

Now if somebody can find our church bell . . . .