If only trees could talk, an ancient Chestnut at the top of Walnut Avenue would have untold stories to tell – stories that likely predate the City of Revere by hundreds of years.
Whether stories of young love, courting couples, brutal blizzards broken hearts or lazy summer days, the old tree has likely seen and witnessed it all generation after generation. The American Chestnut is about 10 feet in length and six feet wide with six large shoots coming out of the trunk. Though it’s been trimmed in recent years, it is alive and well and about 50 feet tall.
By all accounts, it is the oldest tree in Revere by a long shot.
City estimates are that it is likely at least 250 to 300 years old, but owner Elena Chiuccariello said her family believes the tree to be pushing 500 years based on estimates they got long ago.
“I’ve been here 51 years at my home and it was as big as anything when we moved in,” she said. “It was huge and we had to duck under the branches to go up the driveway. This is the oldest tree in the whole city. When we moved in, we were told it was about 550 years old. Someone from City Hall told us that. When we moved in from the North End, I was so afraid of this tree. It was so huge. I told my husband that we needed to get it trimmed because it was going to fall on the house. It was a big change from the North End. There were no trees like this down there.”
The tree has been a welcome friend to the family, protecting them from the east winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean and up the hill. In the Blizzard of 1978, it hardly budged – dropping just a few small branches from the top of the canopy.
City Councillor Ira Novoselsky said the tree used to be in an open lot in what was called the ‘Back Field.’ The field was behind the old Liberty School and acted as a play place for the kids in the neighborhood.
The land at the top of Walnut Avenue was undeveloped until the Chiuccariello and Fenno families moved to the top some 50 years ago. The tree was at the back of the open field.
“It’s been here and it’s still here and healthy,” said Novoselsky. “I’m 68 and it’s been here all my life and was here long before me. We used to come and play on it all the time as kids.”
Often, the tree was used by friends and young lovers.
That is evidenced from the ancient carvings in the bark of the old Chestnut.
There are hearts with unknown initials of old lovers likely long gone from the Earth. There are names of young men professing to be best friends forever. There are untold last names, including ‘Penta’ – among others.
“The names and carvings were on the tree long before I moved here,” said Chiuccariello. “When we trimmed it the first time, I know we had one branch at the top with a name and date from 1880. I wanted to keep it because it was probably a good memory, but we had to get rid of it…We used most of the branches for firewood to burn in our fireplace. It definitely did keep us warm.”
Meanwhile, over the years, Chiuccariello said that older couples used to come to the house all the time in order to look for their initials. That went on for years, but stopped some time in the 1970s, she estimated.
“We had people from Georgia and California and all over the place,” she said. “They would come from all over the country looking for their name in the tree. Many times, it would be a husband and wife who grew up around here and wanted to see their names again. Now, maybe, all the people passed away and they don’t come anymore. They were all old people and they stopped coming about 30 years ago. I always told them to go ahead and look. I didn’t care. It seemed to mean quite a lot to all of them.”
As for her own kids, while the family loved the old tree, Chiuccariello said she would never let them play too much in the branches.
“Mostly my son and daughter would try to climb up in the tree,” she said. “I would tell them not to go up in there. I didn’t want them to fall. I would scream at them every time, ‘Don’t go in there. Get out of that tree.’ You know, I’m an Italian mother, so I didn’t want them to get hurt.”
And so it is on the top of Walnut that a giant old Chestnut this fall will drop its fruit for another year and let loose its colorful leaves for another season.
Next year, it will all happen again.
And some day when this generation is long gone, another generation will likely marvel at a tree that has seen it all – year-by-year and season-by-season.