A portion of a historic tree with ties to the Revolutionary War and pow wows from yesteryear will soon be on display at an elementary school in Lowell, Massachusetts.
A large piece of the trunk of the Pow-Wow Oak, believed to have been up to 350 years old before it was cut down in 2013, will be housed in the P.W. Reilly Elementary School. Lowell officials recently approved displaying a portion of the trunk, which will be between 3-4 feet tall and weigh upwards of 400 pounds.
“It’s closure for us,” said George Koumantzelis, the founder of the Pow-Wow Oak defenders, a non-profit group that was formed in 2009 to ensure the continued safety of the tree. “But it’s sort of bittersweet for us. We would have preferred to have a totem pole made out of the tree.”
A large branch of the tree broke and fell during a storm in May of 2013. Because of extensive interior decay, city officials decided to cut down the entire tree the next day.
Koumantzelis’ group wanted to maintain about 20 feet of the trunk, which he said was still in good condition, to carve out a totem pole. But only a tiny stump remained after the tree was cut down.
After the tree was taken down, Koumantzelis had 50 pieces of it delivered to his backyard. Since then, his group has been trying to get a portion of the tree displayed in a public place.
Koumantzelis believes it will be some time in the spring before the portion of the tree is delivered to the school. A stand has to be constructed and a plaque detailing its historical significance will also be made.
It is believed the Pow-Wow Oak is named after a spiritual leader (called a pow wow) of the Wamesit tribe who planted the seed for the tree. Before (and after) the tree was planted on the sacred ground, the area served as a gathering place for pow wows. Adding to its historical significance is the fact New England soldiers would pass the tree during the Revolutionary War, which ran from 1775 to 1783. A sign was erected in the 1930s beside the tree detailing its connection to the war.
Koumantzelis has had a keen interest in the tree since 1961, when he moved into the Belvidere neighborhood of Lowell, where the tree was located. He said he was six years old when his father took him for a walk near their new home and read him the sign about the tree’s significance. “I can still hear my father’s voice in my mind reading the sign to me,” he said. “It captivated me.”
Sean Carabatsos, the principal at P.W. Reilly Elementary School, is pleased a portion of the historic tree will soon be housed inside the school. “We’re a very diverse school,” he said. “We have a unique mix of neighborhood kids and kids from across the city. We thought it would be a great addition to our school.”
P.W. Reilly is the largest public elementary school in Lowell. It has about 600 students, ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 4.
Carabatsos believes the tree will be displayed in the school cafeteria. There have also been suggestions it would be placed near the main entrance of the school or in its gymnasium.
Carabatsos said details for an official unveiling of the display at the school have yet to be worked out. “We really haven’t decided that yet,” he said. “I’m assuming we would [have a ceremony] though because of its historical significance.”
But because the display will be inside the school, Carabatsos said visitors will not be able to come and see it whenever they want.
“Since we are in a public school it would be a bit tricky for that,” he said. “But we do have showcases throughout the year where we invite parents and families in and I’m sure they would see it then.”