Elsie vs. Herbie: How Scarborough's elm tree stacks up

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SCARBOROUGH — “Just call her Herbie’s girlfriend.”

That was one of the pieces of advice for the town’s Elm Tree Committee on Tuesday from Marcia Noyes, Yarmouth’s director of community services, about Elsie, the historic but sickly Scarborough elm tree slated to be felled on Oct. 15.

While that particular nugget was a joke, Scarborough does hope to model its Elsie-related efforts after the successful, attention-grabbing and lucrative demise of Herbie, the giant 217-year old elm tree cut down in Yarmouth in January 2010

After Herbie was removed, artists and craftsmen used its wood to craft objects such as tables, baseball bats, cutting boards, bookmarks and music stands. Proceeds were split by the artists and The Herbie Project, a group founded to spearhead all Herbie-related efforts. 

To date, The Herbie Project has donated $45,000 to the Yarmouth Tree Trust, all from the sales of Herbie products.

Elsie has clearly seen better days from her Oak Hill spot near the intersection of Gorham and Black Point roads. Dead limbs hang off healthy ones, and the tree’s canopy is thin and sparse.

Scarborough’s public works director, Mike Shaw, has said its best to take Elsie down rather than risk her falling, which could snarl traffic, crush nearby Bangor Savings Bank, or injure pedestrians.

And although Scarborough hopes Elise will have a fate similar to Herbie’s, there are some key differences between the two giant elms. 

Most importantly, the condition of Elsie’s wood is unknown.

Shaw said no one knows whether Elsie’s deteriorating condition is caused by Dutch elm disease. Either way, barely any of the elm’s remaining branches sprout leaves and the tree is clearly dying. Shaw said the condition of the wood would likely remain unknown until the tree comes down. 

Even if the wood is good, there won’t be as much of it. Herbie was reportedly New England’s largest elm – 110 feet tall, with a 120-foot crown width and a 7-foot diameter at its base. There are no concrete measurements of Elsie, but in terms of size, it’s a shadow of Herbie.

“She’s definitely a lot smaller than Herbie,” Shaw said. “She’s probably only about a quarter the size, but that’s a rough guess.”

Elsie is scheduled to come down on Oct. 15. Unlike Yarmouth, the elm’s boosters are planning a large celebration not when she dies, but when new trees are planted and dedicated the following year. Organizers in Yarmouth had about a year to plan for Herbie’s demise, and Scarborough only started planning about a month ago. 

“We want to recognize the passing of Elsie,” Shaw said, “but it’s also a goal to accentuate the planting of a new tree, and for that we have plenty of time.”

That’s alright in terms of fundraising, Noyes said. 

“The bottom line is: Cut the tree, mill it and get the word out to a few artists,” she said. “Word will spread, I guarantee.”

Noyes, Yarmouth Tree Warden Debra Hopkins and sawmill owner Joe Sullivan, who milled Herbie, also urged Scarborough’s committee to involve the community – especially students – at every step of the way. 

“It’s a huge undertaking,” Hopkins said. “It’s a lot of work, but you can do it.”

Town Councilor Carol Rancourt, who along with Councilor Karen D’Andrea has been heading up planning for Elsie, took the names of several artists The Herbie Project had worked with. She hoped they’d also be interested in working the usable portions of Elsie.

It’s possible that funds raised from Elsie-made crafts could benefit the town’s Canopy Fund, which supports the planting of trees in Scarborough, Rancourt said. Though she wasn’t sure, she said proceeds will go to charity or a public fund.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

Sidebar Elements


Elsie, a roughly 200-year-old elm, is the last of the giant elms along Route 1 in Scarborough. The tree is scheduled to be felled on Oct. 15.

The beloved Yarmouth tree known as Herbie, photographed here before it was felled in January 2010. Herbie had Dutch Elm disease and was removed to prevent the disease from spreading to other trees. 

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