TALE OF A TREE: Owners, arborist say historic Magnolia was unsafe and dangerous

Published 6:25 pm Wednesday, July 3, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Paris Winn and Beau Bumgardner said they recently had to make a difficult and painful decision.

The two own the historic home White Wings, on which a majestic 300-year-old Magnolia tree stood until Friday, May 24.

White Wings is the beloved former home of the late Sallie Ballard. Her friends said that as much as she loved her home, Ballard loved and cared meticulously for the historic Magnolia.

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Ballard’s contributions to the City of Natchez are too numerous to count. Born and raised in Natchez, she loved the city and gave back to it in a myriad of ways. She is responsible for the more than 2,000 Crape Myrtle trees that adorn the city today.

That fact made removing the historic tree more difficult, Winn and Baumgardner said.

Winn, who has owned the home for three years, said the tree began coming down limb by limb two years ago.

“Two years ago, a huge limb came down and hit our neighbor’s house. It damaged the roof and took down the siding,” he said.

He said several limbs have fallen since, including one that landed on his vehicle seven weeks ago.

Then, about three weeks ago, about a third of the tree’s top section fell onto his driveway and yard.

Winn and Baumgardner had been working to save the tree with certified arborist Craig Cox of Natchez.

However, when the large number of limbs fell recently, Cox determined the tree could not be saved and had to be cut down.

“He said it could no longer be saved, that it was hollow and had to come down. He said it posed a danger,” Winn said.

Winn discussed the decision to take the tree down with Carter Burns of the Historic Natchez Foundation and applied for a permit to have it removed with city planner Frankie Legaux, he said.

“If you are told it is a danger to the community, you must take it down,” Winn said.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said a permit to remove the tree was necessary because it is located in the city’s historic district.

When crews arrived to remove the tree on Monday, May 20, a neighbor confronted Winn and challenged him about whether he had received the proper authorization to cut down the tree. The police were called, and city officials became involved.

“Carter didn’t tell Mimi Miller (of the Historic Natchez Foundation), and Frankie didn’t tell anyone else in her office, and while some of the tree had been removed, work was stopped,” he said.

City attorney Jack Lazarus looked into the matter later that week, and the work was allowed to continue on Friday, May 24.

“That’s when they took down the balance of the tree,” Winn said.

Cox, a certified arborist who has been in business for 24 years, said the tree had to come down.

“It was a very, very unsafe tree. It was hollow, and it was rotten. The tree was a major safety issue for him, his neighbors, and the City of Natchez,” Cox said.

“I hated to take it down myself, and he hated to take it down, but it was a major liability,” he said.

“This was not something I wanted to do. It cost me $17,000 to have that tree removed. I tried for two years to save the tree,” Winn said. “The center core of the tree was seven feet wide. When it came down, two feet in the center of the core was hollow. Every limb that came down was hollow. Trees do have lifespans. To be honest, I miss it.”

Gibson said the loss of the tree is unfortunate for all involved.

“Great trees don’t grow to be great trees overnight, and it grieves me when we lose these trees. We will miss the great history and the beauty of the tree. When we lose these trees, we lose shade and the environmental fiber of our community,” he said. “But we are not here to second guess our professionals, who deem trees unhealthy and unsafe.”