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home : columnists : betsy reason August 21, 2017

3/18/2017 4:00:00 AM
Big Courthouse tree was an FFA project
Steve Craig
Steve Craig

By Betsy Reason

Hamilton County's building and grounds superintendent Steve Wood gave me only enough details to pique my interest when he phoned me on Thursday to tell me that the big Christmas tree on the Historic Courthouse lawn would be cut down on Friday.

One detail was that Noblesville florist Steve Craig could tell me more.

I didn't think much about it again until about midnight on Thursday, so I messaged Craig on Facebook to ask him what he knew about the tree.

Surprisingly, he was still awake, too. He sent me a quick message. "It was an FFA agriculture project when I was a sophomore in high school." But he would share more in the morning.

Apparently, Craig was thinking about the tree when he woke up Friday morning, as well. I received a text from him at 6:56 a.m. to tell me more.

"Before sophomore year, with the wisdom of my dad, the family took a vacation to Musser Nurseries in Indiana, Pa., to get seedlings for my FFA agriculture project with (the late) Owen Amstutz (who was an Noblesville High School agriculture teacher and a county 4-H leader for 53 years). (The family obtained) 400 mixed-variety Japanese yews and 25 Colorado blue spruce," the 1965 Noblesville High School grad recalled.

"We made a small area across the road from our home on Allisonville Road. Water was there any way for livestock. We got plants that were sticks and planted in newly-turned soil about 6 inches apart. We made a decking with snow fence to protect them, then transplanted them twice as they grew. Father's wisdom came in when they grew and I sold them for college money.... We even used them in our new yard in 1974. We removed them from our home just two years ago. The blue spruce was transplanted in front of our barn; after a few years, they were getting into the power lines."

Craig said, "My dad, Stanley (Craig), in his wisdom, again, talked to the (County) Commissioners to place one spruce on the Courthouse yard for the Santa House." With the help of Jerry Kirkpatrick, Craig's dad moved the tree, then about 12 feet tall, from their family's barnyard to the Courthouse lawn. "The tree has been there for all these years."

Until "yesterday," Craig said. "Yesterday."

He doesn't have any photos from back then, when the tree was planted. Just memories. Especially of people helping each other, like his own family did back then and still does today.

At 9:29 a.m. Friday, Wood phoned to tell me that the tree would be cut down "right now." At that very same moment, 9:29 a.m., Craig texted me to ask when the tree was coming down. While dashing around to get out the front door, I messaged Craig to tell him "right now." On the way to Downtown Noblesville, to make sure he received my message, I phoned the flower shop. But the employee who answered the phone said Craig wasn't there, because he was already on his way walking to the Courthouse.

When I arrived on the Courthouse Square, Craig and Wood, along with Dan Stevens, director of administration and assistant to the County Commissioners, were standing together in the drizzling rain, watching tree experts from Vine & Branch slowly trim tree branches from the base up to the top.

It wasn't long before there was only a tall, skinny tree with just a thick tree top. Then, the top of the tree was cut, and it fell to the ground.

Through the years, firemen would string lights on the tree for each holiday season. More recently, county maintenance department workers and contractors donated their time to string the lights. When the tree was cut down on Friday morning, the lights, still on the branches, came tumbling down with it.

Wood said the big Christmas tree, which had grown to about 70 feet tall, was suffering from "environmental stress," including a 2012 drought, and from needle cast disease.

He said, "We kept it as long as we could and went from recommendations of an arborist."

A big oak tree on the Courthouse lawn was also inspected with six cables installed for support.

While the big Christmas tree is gone, the empty lawn will soon have new life. A Norway spruce, "the official Christmas tree of the Rockefeller Center (in New York City)," Wood said, would be planted in its place this spring.

I asked Craig if he felt any sentimental feelings as he watched and photographed the old tree being cut down.

He said, "No, it's good to move on."

-Contact me at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.

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