Andrew Dys

Here’s what happened when the county tried to cut down York’s beloved tree

York County officials wanted to cut down the massive tree next to the county courthouse that for decades has been the city and county’s Christmas tree, citing safety and economic reasons.
York County officials wanted to cut down the massive tree next to the county courthouse that for decades has been the city and county’s Christmas tree, citing safety and economic reasons. Herald file photo

Officially, now, another old saying is dead. And it took a tree that was not chopped down to do it.

Not just a tree, The Tree.

The people of York fought city hall – county hall this time – over an attempt by York County to cut down the huge tree that serves as the city and county’s Christmas tree on the York County Courthouse property. The tree, and the people who love it, won.

York County will not appeal the Aug. 1 decision by the city’s architectural review board to deny a county request to cut down the tree, County Manager Bill Shanahan said Friday. The county, legally, had a month to file a lawsuit seeking to have the tree cut down.

But it won’t.

“We intend to honor the decision of the city of York architectural review board,” Shanahan said Friday.

No court appeal. No lawsuits. The tree that sits at the intersection of Liberty and Congress streets in downtown York, which soars above the courthouse, stays.

Tree huggers – “Hallelujah!” said Berta Page of York – had fought city hall and won.

“Wonderful!” exclaimed Marty Mathis, the architectural review board member who led the charge to defeat the idea to cut down a tree that has mattered to people in York since the city’s residents gathered under it to mark the WWII defeats of Japan and Hitler. “People here will be so excited.”

The county wanted the tree cut down because more than $9 million has been spent on courthouse renovations. Leaders wanted the tree cut for financial and aesthetic reasons, while claiming the tree had stopped growing.

But, by all accounts, the tree is so healthy it may even be too healthy. It is huge and more powerful than any government.

After The Herald reported the county’s intentions, people in York rallied to save the tree. Residents were calling the architectural board members who under city rules have to approve any changes to historic district buildings and landscaping.

“I called it a backlash and it was,” Mathis said. “People did not want that tree cut down. That is the people’s tree.”

The board was unanimous in voting to scrap the request Aug 1.

Mathis was asked what is next for the tree that has been saved. She said a word that nobody can want to put an ax to. A word that tree has been linked to for so long and will again when people need to find a reason to gather and hold hands and sing under its boughs.

“Christmas,” Mathis said.

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