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‘The Old Lady’ Of Kensington, A Record-Holding Tree, Comes Down

photo of woman dwarfed by huge tree
Todd Bookman/NHPR

When Janet Buxton, her parents and her 11 siblings moved into a Kensington farmhouse in 1954, the sugar maple out front was already massive.

Sixty-seven years later, it’s an institution, a national record-holder, and, as of Monday, now becoming a leafy memory.

“I call her the Old Lady,” said Buxton.

(Editor's note: we highly recommend you listen to this piece.)

After surviving centuries of New England weather, and no shortage of children trying to climb it, the sugar maple that has stood in front of Buxton’s home sustained catastrophic damage in a recent windstorm.

woman looks at huge crack in huge tree
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR
Buxton surveying damage to the trunk suffered during a recent windstorm.

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“You could hear it creaking open,” she said.

A crack in the trunk left it wounded beyond repair. Buxton and her arborist, Micum Davis of Cornerstone Tree Service, agreed it was time to take it down.

“I love my tree. I’m heartbroken.”

After earning the title of biggest sugar maple in New Hampshire, the tree was listed as the national champion following the death of a rival giant in Massachusetts.

At its final measure, Buxton said its girth was 21 feet.

Buxton believes the tree was planted around 1780, when an addition was built on the farmhouse. The Old Lady and a slightly smaller but still massive sibling, planted at the same time, frame the front of the white home. 

photo from distance showing two massive trees
Credit Toq
The farmhouse, flanked by two giant sugar maples.

Since the Union Leader first reported on the tree’s impending removal last week, Buxton has fielded a steady stream of requests for pieces of wood.

Family members and friends want mementos; bowl makers want raw materials.   

“People are lining up to take my tree. Nobody paid for the arborist, but now everyone wants a piece of my tree,” she said with a laugh. 

What took 200-plus years to grow came down quickly, thoughtfully, on Monday. Davis, the arborist, took photos from the bucket as he went. A massive crane towered over the house, plucking segments loosened by his saw.  

photo of man wielding chainsaw
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR
Arborist Micum Davis takes a chainsaw to the biggest sugar maple in the country.

Reporters and passersby lined the roadway, and Buxton also poked her head out every now and then.

Like the Old Lady, her time here is also done. 

This fall, the house, after 67 years in the Buxton family, is going on the market. Janet is downsizing to a nearby cottage. 

“It’s the end of our time with this house. The whole house and the tree, we all go together.”

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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