Taking down ‘the General’: Centre removes red slippery elm at corner of Main and Maple

Published 8:00 am Friday, August 6, 2021

On a sunny Tuesday morning and into the afternoon, Centre College’s big red slippery elm tree at the corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue was taken apart, limb by limb, to stand no more. The tree was estimated to be at least 150 years old.

Susie Roush, the wife of previous Centre president John Roush, and also one of the people who decided to remove the tree, said the decision was made with input from experts.

She said her sons, who were in college when she and John Roush moved to Danville 23 years ago, nicknamed the tree “the General” “just because of her stature and the way she presides over this intersection.”

Email newsletter signup

“Really, much of the campus knows her as ‘the General,’” Roush said.

Taking the tree down was a tough decision, according to Roush.

“I hate that the tree has to come down, but we’ve been watching her for quite some time, we’ve had several evaluations from arborists, and the risk was just too great,” she said. “We’ve had some tests done. We think the trunk is fairly solid, but it’s the decay in the upper branches that we’re worried about.”

Over an intersection as busy as the one at Main and Maple, she said the college didn’t want to risk the possibility of a branch falling and hurting someone, with all the cars, bicycles, and pedestrians who pass through the area.

She personally went up on a bucket-lift and specced the tree, along with Scott Messer, Centre’s director of facilities management.

It was a combination of people who made the decision to remove the tree — Roush, Messer, and Clay Contini, Centre’s grounds supervisor, mainly. They consulted with Davey Resource Group based in Cincinnati, PlanIt Geo, and a Centre alumnus who teaches at the University of Kentucky in the forestry department. They also consulted with Stanley Professional Tree Service, which Centre has been working with for more than 15 years and which removed the tree.

According to a notice emailed to faculty and staff from Centre’s vice president, chief financial officer, and treasurer Brian Hutzley, a branch of the tree fell a few weeks ago, temporarily knocking out a power transformer. Roush said a couple of branches have fallen due to wind and rainstorms.

“The tree likely began life located a reasonable distance from the crossing at the dirt roads now known as Maple Avenue and Main Street, about the time of the Civil War, long before the sidewalks and power lines were introduced,” Hutzley wrote in the email.

Much of the tree’s story and age is evident in not only its rings, but also its branches, nearly all of which were decaying or hollow.

“When I went up in the lift, I looked down on these branches and it was almost like they had been sliced like a hotdog, and they were rotting on the tops, and what the tree does is, it’ll try to heal itself and roll around hard bark, hard wood,” Roush said.

Roush said as they removed the tree, workers were going to try to get a good cross section of the trunk with which to make a time line.

“And the rings will tell us more,” she said. “They’ll tell us which years were good growth years and what years were not.”

She said additionally, pieces of furniture may be made with the lumber, to include the possibility of outdoor benches. Boards from the tree will likely be used by Centre carpenters to do repairs around campus, she said.