Janesville landmark gets spruced up

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Thursday, December 23, 2010
— As far back as anyone’s memory goes, it’s always been “the big pine tree on West Court Street.”

Joe Butters’ memory is better than most in this regard. It goes back more than 60 years. He grew up with the tree in his yard in the 1950s and ’60s.

When someone would give him a ride home, all he had to do was ask to be dropped off at the big pine. Everyone knew.

Butters watched workers trim deadwood from the tree Wednesday, probably the first time the tree has gotten the attention of tree professionals.

“As long as I can remember, it was always the same size,” Butters said.

That size is huge.

Chris Ranum of L.P. Tree Service measured the circumference of the trunk Wednesday: 14 feet, 7 inches.

When measured in 2004, the tree was 65 feet high.

It’s such a grand tree that it was once listed first among the state DNR’s “champion trees” in the Austrian pine category. It’s now in second place.

Butters said his father bought the house, tobacco shed and stable along with the tree on 10 acres in 1946. Butters was born in ’47.

His father was proud of the fact that he paid the mortgage with profits from the tobacco he grew on the land, Butters recalled.

The tree was a constant. It once held swings for the children to play on.

“When I was a kid I could climb up where that big crotch is,” he said. “That was a long time ago.”

The tree is at 2320 W. Court Street, across the street from the Culver’s restaurant and next to Gray Brewing Co. A second, smaller Austrian pine stands next to it.

“It’s gorgeous,” said Ranum, who organized the pruning.

“You want to get rid of dead, diseased materials,” Ranum said. “You want to expose the tree to sunlight. Trees need sunlight on the interior as well as the exterior. You also reduce the wind drag.”

Less drag means less chance of wind damage.

Ranum invited fellow Wisconsin Arborists Association members Dave Graham of The D.W.G. Co. and Cory Gritzmacher of Second Nature Landscape to join in the pruning.

Two workers entered the tree via bucket truck. Another climbed high, suspended in a sling. Dead limbs and needles crashed and bounced to the ground. Snowflakes held by the high branches followed.

All but Ranum’s employees worked for free.

“It’s a labor of love,” Ranum said.

Ranum, obviously passionate about trees as well as his business, said a lot of people with scant knowledge of trees have gotten into the tree-trimming business recently.

“People need to get serious about tree care,” Ranum said. “These are living, breathing things.”

Ranum said he hoped the event would bring attention to the fact that this is no ordinary tree.

“That vacant lot there is for sale, and I’d like it to be a well-known fact that it is a substantially recognizable tree, so if somebody purchases it, they don’t say, ‘It’s in the way, it’s gotta go,’” Ranum said.

No one knows how old the tree is. Butters said the house he grew up in, which is no longer there, was built in the 1800s. If the tree was planted—as most Austrian pines are—that would put it at well over 100 years.

With any luck, the tree could be around for another 100 years, Ranum said.


The Austrian pine on Janesville's West Court Street is among the largest of its kind in Wisconsin, according to records maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The trees are rated based on a formula that includes height and girth. The DNR rates the Janesville tree second to one at 302 N. Wisconsin St., Elkhorn. The Elkhorn tree was 88 feet high when measured in 2007. The Janesville tree was 65 feet high when measured in 2004.

Click here for more about the state's "champion trees," or to nominate a tree for the DNR's list.

Last updated: 3:45 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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