Trees are historic landmarks. This American Elm, Portland’s first historic landmark tree, is the last living connection to a neighborhood that was once full of homes and gardens. Rosetta Burrell, one of Portland’s socially minded women, planted it in her lush garden around 1875. Westshore magazine featured Mrs. Burrell’s home and garden in 1888-- a nineteenth-century "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" if you will. An active member of the First Unitarian Church and the League of Women Voters, Mrs. Burrell made many important social contributions to the city. In 1887, she was instrumental in founding the Portland Woman’s Union, and donated $10,000 of her own money to build the Martha Washington Hotel: a boarding house for single mothers that also provided educational training. Over the years the Burrell’s suburban home became part of the downtown core. The gardens, greenhouses, and stables were cleared to make room for more dense development. By 1973, all that remained of the Burrell’s property was the elm tree. That year, a member of the Oregon Historical Society had an idea: If the city of Portland could preserve historic buildings, why not a historic tree? So in 1975 the city’s Historical Landmarks Commission approved the Burrell Elm as the first landmark tree in the city. As a historic landmark, it’s no surprise that this tree was first on the list when the city created the Heritage Tree ordinance in 1993. Now legally protected, any construction or development that could affect the tree requires approval of the City Forester.
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