SKOWHEGAN — When a big old pine tree came crashing down near the town’s landmark Swinging Bridge on Sunday, the damage was farther reaching than just the tree and the minor damage to the bridge and power poles.

The tree, which the town plans to cut up and remove on Friday, also took a part of history with it when it fell and has raised concerns over whether surrounding trees should be removed to ensure safety.

On Sunday, the tree snapped about 20 feet from the ground. It was one of three large pines in a small park at a boat launch on the South Channel of the Kennebec River and is believed to be a “great-grandchild” of the trees that Benedict Arnold and his men dug pitch out of to repair their bateux on their ill-fated trip to Quebec City during the Revolutionary War in September 1775, according to Melvin Burnham, director of the Skowhegan History House.

The fallen tree and the other two still standing are probably about 100 years old, but their ancestors likely provided shelter and materials for rafting down the Kennebec to Native Americans in the 1500s and 1600s, said Burnham. In those times the Indians would stop at the island, which was known as Pine Grove at one point, on their way down the river from northern hunting areas, he said.

“Those trees represent historical periods in our community,” Burnham said. “I think they’re important because just like an old house, they have a story to tell about life in those times.”

He said he hoped the wood from the fallen tree could be preserved in a way that might remind future generations of the role the island played in history.

Meanwhile, the fate of the two remaining trees may also be in jeopardy.

Decay and organic rot where the tree snapped is clearly visible, suggesting that the other two in the grouping may need to be examined, town officials said.

Town Manager John Doucette Jr. said the town will have an arborist look at the two remaining trees before any decision is made to cut them down.

Road Commissioner Greg Dore said he has asked Michael Sackett, a surveyor and arborist, to conduct a bore test on the remaining trees to test for rot.

“One of them doesn’t look very healthy at all,” Dore said. “Looking at the one that fell and assuming that the other two are going to be the same, I’d rather have a specialist look at them just to be sure.”

Dore said taking down trees that size in an urban area can be expensive.

“I’d hate to see them taken down, but if they are a hazard to people that live in the area and use the bridge, it probably should be done,” said Burnham.

The bridge itself was not badly damaged in the crash Sunday, but guide wires that are part of the bridge’s suspension were struck by the tree. Dore said part of the H-frame of the bridge was damaged, as was a piece of floor board and part of a railing. He said it is minor damage that can be paid for from the town’s bridge maintenance account.

A utility pole with a park light also was knocked down by the falling tree, which shattered into several large pieces, blocking access to the bridge. Dore said town crews will cut up the downed tree on Friday and bring the wood to the town transfer station.

Electricity to the damaged wires has been cut off and is not affecting service to any customers, according to Gail N. Rice, a Central Maine Power spokeswoman. She said the wires only serviced the park light. The damaged wires will be cleaned up once the tree is removed, she said.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367 [email protected] Rachel Ohm— 612-2368 [email protected]

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