This Week in Block Island’s History: A large tree on the West Side, October 3, 1876
This week in Block Island’s history 136 years ago, on October 3, 1876, Nancy Mott married Lovell Dickens at the West Side Road home of her father, Otis Mott, and planted a horse chestnut tree to commemorate the event.
Trees were scarce then on Block Island, whose most notable claims to fame were the vast rolling pastures and plains, with a near total absence of anything taller than a stone wall.
The Mott family, though, had managed to have a significant tree event just the summer before, when President Ulysses S. Grant stopped in his carriage to purchase a basket of cherries from their orchard for 25 cents. Those trees were leveled 60 years later by the 1938 hurricane, but several new ones soon began growing from the roots.
The horse chestnut tree planted at the Mott house was brought from the home of Nancy’s uncle in Lyme, Connecticut. The ironic nature of such ceremonies is that as the tree grows stronger and taller in future years, those who did the planting grow weaker and shorter. On West Side Road the horse chestnut tree can still be seen just north of a sharp curve in the road, behind a stonewall in the yard of an old white house.
Everyone who witnessed the ceremony is gone — for the tree is very large.
But in 1877, within a year after the tree was planted, Nancy and Lovell Dickens had a daughter — named Elizabeth Dickens — who grew up a mile further south on the West Side from where her mother was born. During a good half of the next century she instilled a love of nature, especially birds, into generations of Block Island students.
Miss Dickens died in 1963 after a lifetime of admiring the view of the ocean across her fields. Much of her farmland is now part of the Lewis-Dickens Nature Preserve, where the old pastures still run into the sea. That’s the old Block Island still promoted in tourist brochures, but one now ironically almost disappeared due to the 10-foot-high bushes and shrubs growing up willy-nilly across the island.
So, when you pass the gnarled tree by the bend in the road, celebrate Elizabeth Dickens, and all she stood tall for — including wonderful trees.