“The six-block length of Club Boulevard is a grand urban gesture, one of the loveliest streets in Durham,” says the Watts-Hillandale Historic District Preservation Plan. “The ancient willow oaks between the sidewalks and curbs on both sides of Club Boulevard soar one hundred feet in the air to create a leafy bower.”
Such leafy bowers are common among Durham’s early 20th-century neighborhoods, such as Trinity Park and Forest Hills as well as Watts-Hillandale, and areas of that era across much of the southeastern United States.
Willow oak ( Quercus phellos), also known as peach oak, pin oak, and swamp chestnut oak, is found mainly in coastal plain bottomlands from New Jersey souto north Florida and west to eastern Texas, according to the U.S. Forest Service ( 1.usa.gov/1tGrWo8). It has also been commonly used as a specimen in urban parks and along streets like those in Durham.
The Watts-Hillandale plan credits the city’s oaken canopies to Margaret Brawley, who lived at 2422 W. Club Blvd., and her “persistent efforts to convince city officials the see the logic of street trees.”
In 1932, the city created a Tree Commission and tree-protection law, and the Durham Garden Club and a local Depression-relief agency were setting out oak saplings – starting on Club Boulevard.
Even then, Tree Commissioner C.F. Korstian recognized that those saplings could grow tall enough to interfere with power lines, but, he said, by the time they grew that tall would probably have been moved underground.
That has not happened, and repeated pruning to clear limbs from power lines has weakened many of the trees. Urban air, compacted soil and age have added stress, and according to the city’s urban foresters the willow oaks are nearing the end of their lifespans and need replacing. City foresters consider other species, such as the Georgia oak, trident maple and Chinese pistache planned to go along Club Boulevard, as better suited to city living.
Staff writer Jim Wise