A land dispute in Fort Plain led to a very unconventional memorial service Sunday evening.
About 25 village residents gathered on the lawn of Minden town Supervisor and Republican state Assembly candidate Thomas Quackenbush to eulogize the short life and mourn the chain saw death of a locally beloved elm tree.
The story began hundreds of years ago, when, the story goes, Mohawk Indians lit their council fires beneath a huge spreading elm atop Prospect Hill, which now overlooks Fort Plain.
“Legend has it the Indians frequented the tree because it had such a commanding view of the valley,” said James Katovitch, who helped organize the memorial.
Over the years, as the area was settled, it became known as the Council Elm. Then in the 1970s, the tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease and had to be chopped down.
One neighbor, Karl Fredericks, was so heartbroken he commissioned a memorial stone to be placed by the stump. A few years later, the village paid for a new elm, a disease-resistant strain this time, to be planted on Prospect Hill.
“All of this was done with the permission of the property owners,” Katovitch said, “but recently the land was sold and nothing was really documented.”
The new owners of 7 Waddell Ave. — Charles Maiden and his wife, who could not be reached for comment — believed the elm to be on their land and cut it down.
“I asked them not to remove anything until the proper authorities confirmed the property lines,” said Deputy Mayor Loring Dutcher, who was on the village Board of Trustees when the original elm was removed. “Unfortunately, [they] chopped it down anyway.”
The dispute comes down to a matter of a few feet. The village owns a certain amount of land along the side of the road. If the tree was outside that right-of-way, the Maidens were within their rights to cut down the tree. However, if it grew closer to the road, within the right-of-way, there could be problems.
Dutcher confirmed the village hired a surveyor to find the exact property borders.
“The house has been there for over 100 years,” he said. “In that time, the road could have changed. It’s hard to tell exactly.”
Even if the tree was on village land, Dutcher doubts any legal action will be taken.
“It would be a board decision whether or not to make them pay for a new tree,” he said, “but no one is getting arrested.”
The proceedings are currently in the hands of Village Attorney John Kirkpatrick, who declined comment until the survey report comes in.