Expert advises on problem pine’s effect on Whitney plot


SHIRLEY — A group gathered at the Shirley Center Cemetery on a recent Saturday morning to meet with David Gallagher, chief of conservation at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

Gallagher described various solutions for preserving the 18th-century headstones at the Whitney family plot that have been damaged and impacted for many years by the growth of a large twin-trunk pine tree.

The Whitney family plot is one of the most historic in the cemetery and is the final resting place of Phinneas Whitney, the first minister of Shirley’s Meeting House.

The Whitney family were also were generous donors to the town in the 19th century, giving the land and much of the cost of the Center Town Hall in 1848 and were responsible for the ornamental tree plantings in the cemetery. Over the last 100 years, the large twin pine has significantly damaged several 18th-century family headstones and broken the plot fence.

At a hearing earlier his year, the Board of Selectmen voted to have the tree removed, fearing it may fall and damage many of the oldest headstones. It is the tallest and most prominent tree in the cemetery.

More recently, an independent arborist, Carl Cathcart, inspected the tree at the request of several concerned citizens and found it sound and healthy based on a visual inspection. He further suggested additional testing to determine the interior density of the tree and possible solutions, such as trimming and cabling the twin trunks together to increase stability.

At an ad hoc meeting about the tree earlier that week, concerned citizens, the Cemetery Commission, and Selectman Andy Deveau discussed the restoration of the cemetery plot as an important part of the solution whether the tree stays or is removed.

The group felt that an additional opinion about the restoration of the plot was necessary to have the most information for a solution, and Gallagher agreed to help.