During the last week of January, the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad hauled out the chainsaws and a railroad car equipped with a crane to remove about 30 mature pine trees from the grassy right-of-way north of the tracks between Arden and Hollywood avenues.
About three weeks have gone by and 70 to 80 of the pine trees between Prairie and Maple avenues, which line both sides of the tracks, still stand and have escaped the ax, for now.
The pine trees had become such a familiar sight along the train line in Brookfield that residents simply took them for granted. No one seemed to be exactly sure how long they’d been there or who was responsible for planting them, save that it was pretty certain the village and some Boy Scouts had a hand in it.
Back in January, the Landmark reached out to former Brookfield village manager Jim Mann, whose service with the village roughly coincided with the time period people recollected as that of the tree planting.
Last week, Mann phoned the Landmark to unlock the mystery. Did he know when they were planted? Why, yes he did.
Mann was hired as village manager in early 1980, during the administration of Village President Pierce McCabe. In 1981, said Mann, the village received its first Tree City U.S.A. award – one the village would receive annually from then on – and McCabe wanted to solidify that designation.
“He got interested in wanting improvements along the Burlington tracks and worked on it with the local representative from the railroad,” Mann said. “Pierce talked the Burlington Northern into planting the trees. He got scouts to do the planting and got someone to donate the trees.”
Mann recollected that all of the trees planted back then were along the north right-of-way from Hollywood to Maple. He didn’t recall when the trees in the south right-of way, which extend from Sunnyside Avenue to Maple Avenue, were planted. They are slightly smaller than those north of the tracks, so it may have been later.
McCabe used as part of his argument for planting the trees, according to Mann, historic photos of Brookfield, including a panoramic photo from 1895 looking west down the rail line from roughly Prairie Avenue.
In that photo, which was reproduced in “Brookfield, Illinois: A History,” published in 1993 for the 100th anniversary of the village’s incorporation, immature pine trees line the north railroad right-of-way.
Another historic photo, looking east down the tracks from just west of Prairie Avenue, shows tiny pine trees lining the north right-of-way.
Mann said McCabe also used an 1889 survey of Grossdale, which in 1905 was renamed Brookfield, of the railroad corridor from Forest Avenue to Maple Avenue. Immediately adjacent to the north railroad right-of-way are block-long sections labeled “park.”
Those sections appear to be in the locations where there are now parking spots next to the railroad.
Back in the early 1980s, that was apparently enough to get the Burlington Northern (“Santa Fe” wouldn’t become part of the name until 1995) to permit trees to be planted in their precious right-of-way.
“Every so often the Burlington Northern would come out to do improvements and some trees were removed,” said Mann. “But, for the most part, it was left intact.”
Until last month.