2014-04-17 / Front Page

Newport’s Trees through the Ages

When Roger Williams negotiated the purchase of Aquidneck from Native Americans in 1638, the island forest was lush. From that point forward, the forest was steadily cleared for construction and farmland. By 1779, three years of wartime occupation and desperation for winter fuel had decimated the tree canopy. The landscape of the city was reborn, however, one hundred years later during the Gilded Age, when tree hunters, plant collectors, gardeners and landscape architects like Frederick Law Olmsted planted exotic trees brought from across the globe to grace the estates of Newport society.

By 1913, Newport’s newlyplanted forest had reached maturity, and the citywide arboretum was at its peak in all corners of the city. After World War I, the passion for collecting and displaying new species began to fade as a generation of scientists and amateur horticulturists passed and the hurricane of 1938 stripped the area of many of its most spectacular trees. The island began a long slow decline of the canopy that continued for decades.

The Newport Tree Society was founded in 1987 to create a sustainable tree protection, maintenance and planting program for the city, recognizing the fragile state of the aging tree specimens.

In 2011, the Society declared the week between Earth Day and Arbor Day as Newport Arboretum Week and established Newport as New England’s first arboretum. Today, the group partners with organizations across the city to celebrate our urban landscape and has developed selfguided city tree walks, planting programs, tree tags posted on more than 300 trees, and virtual tree-walk applications online for computers and smartphones.

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