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Down went the park’s landmark locust trees

Dibbles Dabbles

December 14, 2011
By Billie Dibble - Westfield Historian,1975-2006 (editorial@westfieldrepublican.com)

This story first published December 1, 1983:

Who remembers the row of locust trees that stood behind the decorative iron fence which divided the McClurg Mansion lawn from the village common?

It is said that the trees stood there for more than 127 years and were a familiar and beautiful landmark. They have been gone now for well over 40 years.

Article Photos

Photo courtesy Patterson Library
Last of the locust trees — In the name of safety the 127-year-old locust trees were removed from Moore Park in October of 1941.

The McClurg Mansion has been known by several names, on of which was "McClurg's Folly." This name, of course, was given to the home because it was so grand compared to the simple log homes of the residents of this area back in 1814, when James McClurg brought both materials and skilled workmen from Pittsburgh for the construction of the showplace.

Mr. McClurg had purchased a large amount of land from David Eason. He gave the land in front of the home to the village for a park - some land on the west for a Presbyterian Meeting House and on the east for an Episcopal Church.

It was when the house was new that the locust trees were planted and the home was named "The Locust."

It was in the fall of 1941 when the Buffalo Courier-Express reported that the landmarks were being pulled down because of being a danger to passersby when high winds blow. The 127-year-old locust trees, which had become a Westfield landmark in the public park on Main Street, were being removed by the order of the village board, headed by Mayor Ralph Keopka.

The trees were being felled by digging out the base and roots, the local electric light company's truck finishing the job by pulling them over with wire cables. The work was being done by the highway department and was taking about a week to accomplish.

Two reasons were given by the village board for removing the trees - they had lost their early beauty and had become a menace with dead limbs large enough to do fatal damage.

The Buffalo paper states further that according to Arthur Tennant, Sr., local historian, the locust trees were planted in 1814 by James McClurg who gave his name to a Westfield street. Mr. McClurg's grandson, the late Dr. William Moore, willed the village the entire property and the Moore home, which was built by McClurg when the trees were planted in 1814.

Dr. Moore died at his late residence, The Locust, Main Street, Westfield, on Easter Day, April 17, 1938 at the age of 86. It was three and a half years later when the village board made the unpopular decision that the trees must come down.

The Westfield Republican had this to say, "A large number of our citizens regretted the taking down of these trees on account of their history! But when they were taken down it was found that they were badly decayed, in fact it is a wonder that they had not blown down long ago, the roots and trunks were so badly rotted."

Perhaps the local citizens were not the only ones to mourn the passing of the old landmarks as it was reported that painful injury to the highway department workers was avoided by cold weather when a swarm of bees was found in one of the trunks after the tree was felled. Had the weather been warm enough to encourage the bees to leave the tree, highway officials said that some of the men would have been badly stung, as a protest, some citizens observed, for destruction of their home.

It was several years after the death of Dr. Moore and the removal of the locust trees when the lovely old McClurg Mansion became the Chautauqua County Historical Society headquarters, Moore Park appearing to be its front lawn, with no iron fence and no locust trees dividing the property.

Somehow, in the autumn, when all the leaves come tumbling down in Westfield to be gobbled up by the big orange elephant and we miss the smoky smell of falls of yesteryear, it seems fitting to pause and remember the locust trees which stood in the village park.

 
 

 

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