Something truly terrible happened to Sheridan Street, and to the Town of Lexington, this past Monday, June 5, 2023. On that day, a majestic and irreplaceable white oak tree, estimated by some to be around 260 years old, was brutally cut down to make way, one assumes, for yet another Lexington “mansion.” The tree, the most unique and beautiful tree I have ever seen, was the victim of town policies that have allowed this kind of tragedy to occur. The town’s laissez faire teardown policy, or lack of a policy, has detrimental socio-economic effects, but also leads to dramatic loss of mature trees and wildlife habitat. In the case of this tree, a likely witness to the American Revolution itself has been sacrificed to greed and indifference.

Photos by Lauren Feeney

The tree stood next to a modest old house on Sheridan Street. It was occupied by a woman who grew up there and valued the tree very much. After she passed and the house went on the market, realtors clearly advertised it with developers in mind. It’s just the sort of house that we’ve seen torn down all over Lexington, only to be replaced by huge, sterile mansions. The new owner has not been specific about his plans for the property. 

Early on Monday morning, I looked out and saw the tree cutting trucks arriving and the new owner standing nearby. I went outside and gave him a piece of my mind, as a patriot and as someone who cares about the environment. The owner just repeated that it was his right to take it down, he said the tree warden told him so — he was just exercising his “right.”

That the tree ought to have been placed under a protective order or heritage order is so obvious; why it was not baffles me. Why have a tree warden instead of a tree advocate? I cannot understand how people charged with protecting the heritage could allow this to happen.

Eventually, other neighbors came along and stood in the cold rain, watching. Most were deeply sad. One said that it was a day of mourning. I contacted the Lexington Observer, and their journalist came along as well. I will never forget the crew swinging up high and slashing at that noble, glorious tree. I cried that day and have cried a number of times since.  I used to hear owls hooting from that tree in early winter, night after night. I imagine I will not hear them again.

A longer version of this letter was sent to the Select Board. 

Join the Conversation


  1. Glorious old trees are one of the reasons Lexington is a great town – the sense of history, the beauty of the tree itself, the shade and shadows, the shelter for birds. Wouldn’t the presence of a majestic tree make a sterile McMansion more attractive? I echo others’ concerns about the town’s tree “protection” policy. This is not the first time beautiful trees have been destroyed. How can we fix this?

  2. Old trees are wonderful things. At the same time, it’s not unreasonable for an 1100 square foot home to be redeveloped. Sadly trees that are quite close to the house often have to be removed. On the bright side, soon some lovely new neighbors will be making memories there. Hopefully they’ll even plant a few trees.

  3. This breaks my heart. An old oak is a haven for wildlife, provides shade and cooling, captures carbon, and is a thing of great beauty. We as a town need to do a better job preserving and protecting these majestic old trees. Why could a developer not be a little more creative and site new homes so that the tree can remain? A beautiful tree like this would enhance the value of the property – it seems very short-sighted to think that a developer needs to work on a ‘blank’ (bland, uniform) slate. Mature trees are what make the difference between a neighborhood with charm and grace, and a bleak new one.

  4. I never saw that tree in real life, but it was obviously a treasure from the photograph. The house also looks like a gem. Reminds me of a house I lived in, on the googleable Perry Lane in Menlo Park, the summer I turned 4, and revisited 17 years later. (Ken Kesey moved to Perry Lane a year after I had lived there.) After Zillow came on the scene, in the ’00s, I started checking out the value of a few houses I’d lived in. I got to 2 Perry Lane and was shocked to see $1.2 million, for an 800 sq ft cottage. Then I noticed that Zillow said the house had been constructed in, maybe it was 2002. At that point, I knew I would never set foot on Perry Lane again.

  5. Thank you so much for this letter Sara. We live on Grant, loved that tree, and very much hoped for a better outcome. Recently when walking by with my dogs, I walked over and touched it and thanked it… knowing its majestic life would literally be cut short by never ending greed. Lexington has lost its way as it values developers over residents, mansions over homes and money (permits, fees, property tax) over community.

    I thank our TMM Pam and many others who worked to save the tree. We must do better.

    Thank you.

  6. Several years ago we watched a property on our street get sold and over a dozen mature trees were cut down to make way for a trophy home. We were stunned that this was permitted as well. These trees will not be replaced. The aesthetic and environmental impact is remarkable. Is the town of Lexington really not able to protect our trees?

  7. Regarding previous comments about tree protection and the Tree Warden: unfortunately, the Town of Lexington does not have a policy on tree preservation. And preservation of trees is not part of the Tree Warden’s job description. Moreover, the Tree Warden does not have authority over most trees on private property. The real estate market sees trees (despite their beauty and ecological services) only as impediments to development and without market value and thus has no incentive to save them. Only the Select Board and Town Meeting can improve tree protection in Lexington, and they will only act if enough of us bring pressure.

    1. Beyond just bringing pressure to the Select Board and Town Meeting, residents can bring an article to Town Meeting by way of a Citizen Petition. You need the signatures of just 10 registered voters to make it happen for the Annual Town Meeting, which starts in March. It takes 100 signatures, more challenging but certainly doable, to get an article on the warrant for a special Town Meetings. We almost always have a special Town Meeting in November. We all have the power to do something about this.

  8. We have a responsibility to stop climate change by preventing the release of carbon into the atmosphere right here in Lexington. Saving trees has a big impact. Saving houses has an even bigger one.

    “In one year, a mature live tree can absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide, which is permanently stored in its fibers until the tree or wood experiences a physical event that releases it into the atmosphere, like fire or decomposition.” –

    “Demolishing a three-bedroom home is a waste of 35-40 tons of embodied carbon—equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from driving a car about 90,000 miles, or nearly four times around the world!” – Kord Jablonski, Executive Director of the Boston Building Resources Center

  9. A valid reson for cutting down a tree–whether it is healthy or not–would be that it is too close to the house. It could come down during a hurricane or other high wind condition and cause catastrophic damage to a dwelling. As a property owner I would not want to see any bylaw abridging my right to remove such a tree. Several mature trees removed from my property this very reason. I should also add that I have had a 60 ft. willow tree come down many years ago under calm weather conditions that damaged a fence in a neighor’s yard.

  10. This reminds me of 75 Outlook Drive. When they were clear cutting an acre of land, I felt the same as Sara. More attention needs to be placed on the preservation of trees – both for beauty, for mitigating climate change, and for the support of biodiversity. This is a shame and we need change.

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