It was a sad day yesterday when we watched the crew from White Hills Tree Removal in Shelton slowly dismember and take down the great spruce tree that has adorned the southeast corner of the Bradley-Hubbell House for as long as any of us could remember. At an estimated 100 – 110 feet in height, it was surely one of the tallest of its kind in Easton. It had survived numerous tropical storms, dozens of Nor’easters, more than a few blizzards and ice storms, and over a half dozen hurricanes. But it was no match for the tremendous bolt of lightning that struck it a few weeks ago, blowing parts of its upper trunk some 80 feet from where it so proudly stood and causing several of its limbs to smolder and smoke.
An otherwise healthy tree, it then faced the likelihood of a slow death from the lightning damage. Given its close proximity to both the historic 1816 Bradley-Hubbell House and the busy Black Rock Turnpike, the danger of it slowly shedding branches, or simply snapping during a future storm was simply too great to chance. After some lengthy discussions between the Historical Society of Easton – which restored and manages the property, the State of Connecticut, and Aquarion, it was decided the tree had to be removed.
The earliest known photograph of the tree is likely the one the Historical Society has from the mid-1940’s. At the time, the tree was about the perfect size for a Christmas tree – about 8 to 10 feet in height. That would have likely meant it was planted sometime in the mid to late 1930’s, most likely by the resident of the property, Franklin Hubbell, the then superintendent of the Aspetuck Watershed for the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company.
In addition to his managing the watershed, Hubbell’s knowledge of agriculture became the impetus behind the founding of the Aspetuck Valley Orchard operation that grew from a small orchard of apple trees planted atop Flirt Hill, into a large-scale enterprise that produced apples, peaches, pears, and a wide range of summer vegetables that were processed and sold at Easton’s well-known Apple Barn about a half mile north of where Hubbell resided. He also oversaw the sawmill that the BHC operated on the opposite side of Black Rock Turnpike about halfway between his house and the Apple Barn. It was Hubbell’s contributions to the town, both as an employer who gave many of Easton’s youth their first job, and his service to Easton as a public servant which included his tenure as First Selectman, that got his family name added to the Bradley-Hubbell House.
Ironically, Franklin and Helen Hubbell’s daughter Patricia passed away this summer. She grew up in that house and had nothing but fond memories of her childhood there. An accomplished author, poet, and artist, many of the books she wrote for children contained passages that described the immediate area. The tiny building that sits behind the main house was built by Hubbell as a playhouse for Patricia and her older sister Jean. Patricia often referred to it as her “museum,” a place where she collected and displayed various items of nature along with her books and crafts.
Her father turned the playhouse into a tool shed for his garden after his daughters were grown and out on their own. Sometime after his death in 1996, the diminutive structure was vandalized. After the Historical Society of Easton took the property over in 1999, it was described as the “ice house” and was included in the master plan for the renovation and restoration of the property. It served as a garden shed for many years for the Easton Garden Club that continues to maintain the beautiful garden that sits just south of the Bradley-Hubbell House today. Until very recently, it has languished in stoic silence as the rest of the property has seen a slow but continuing restoration.
One of Patricia’s last wishes was that her beloved playhouse/museum be restored. The Historical Society of Easton is intent on granting that wish. This summer, in addition to replacing the roofs on the main house and barn, the playhouse also received a completely new roof, the first step in bringing the little building back to life.
While that magnificent spruce may no longer be here to enjoy, the little playhouse in the backyard is beginning to get the attention that it so desperately deserves. Anyone wishing to help move this project along is encouraged to donate to the Historical Society of Easton to make it happen as soon as we possibly can.
Donations can be made securely online using a credit card by visiting: Donations and Patrons – Historical Society of Easton Connecticut (historicalsocietyofeastonct.org).
Or those who would prefer to donate by check can do so by making it out to: The Historical Society of Easton CT, and sending it to PO Box 121, Easton, CT 06612. As always, no amount is either too small or too large.
Gallery of the removal of the BHH Spruce Sept. 30, 2022.