To entrepreneurs who want to be on U.S. 1’s our cover, we often say, “Watch out what you wish for.” If your business is important enough to be a cover story, it is also worthy of follow-up articles.

So it was with last fall’s article about Maple Town Associates, which reclaimed historic houses for Princeton Nurseries Village (U.S. 1, October 18, 2006). This week we received a letter written by Karen Linder, president of the Friends of Princeton Nurseries Land, about how the developer had cut down a rare tree, a gingko tree with unusual mitten-shaped leaves, during the house-moving process.

For this controversy, both sides rue having sought public attention. When the developer read the letter, he felt his reputation was being unfairly besmirched. When the writer realized the controversy she had caused, she wanted to retract the letter. We insisted on printing it, at least in part, because it had already run elsewhere, and also because, given the prior cover story, we felt a follow up was in order.

Linder wrote: “The Friends of Princeton Nurseries Land are angry and sad about the loss of a historic ginkgo tree that had been standing sentinel near the former Princeton Nursery main sales office in Kingston for over 50 years. The felled tree was the largest in a row of 37 trees planted in the mid-’60s. On February 12, while the park offices were closed for the Lincoln’s Birthday holiday, it was chain-sawed to the ground.

“What is particularly dismaying is that the 53-foot specimen that was destroyed was Princeton Nurseries’ most famous ginkgo variety, a male cultivar known as ‘Princeton Sentry,’ which was patented by William Flemer Jr. in 1967.”

“We don’t know exactly what happened, but here is what we do know. Two Princeton Nurseries houses that were being relocated to Mapleton Road for restoration had been moved through the nursery fields that day, following a route that had been agreed to by the developer, the mover, the Mapleton Preserve Commission and the D&R Canal State Park. Everyone worked together to make sure that the house move would NOT eliminate trees, much less one so distinguished as this ginkgo.

“However, after passing through the tree row, the beams on one of the houses got stuck. The moving company was in a hurry to do the job due to the impending storm. Rather than contacting anyone to gain consensus, let alone approval, on how to proceed, the developer proceeded to cut down the ginkgo, along with three large limbs of a Japanese Saphora tree. The developer had expressly been told not to harm the gingkos in any way, so this action was shocking.”

Michael Sassman, co-founder of Maple Town, also was outraged at what he perceived to be an unfair attack. “I grew up in this town,” he said in a telephone interview. “I used to work at that nursery. No one else restores and saves more houses than I do. When all is said and done I will be lucky to make any money on this job.”

Sassman claims that everyone knew that branches would have to be cut in order to save the houses, and that everyone knew the moving schedule.

Sassman denies that the moving was done in a rush, saying that he waited to do the trimming until he could see what would have to be cut. “I took the guy out of the machine and I personally made the cuts. I didn’t cut any branches until the houses were moved and they were right up on the trees.”

Sassman says that he could not have predicted exactly how the moving company would position the house on the beams. “The house got wedged between the two trees. I might have gone a different route, but another route was not approved, and had I gone a different route, more than 10 other trees might have been cut.”

Now that both sides have been heard, we are optimistic that all parties involved will now be able to discuss it calmly. Sassman will want to make the point that he saved two houses and tried to take “every precaution.” The Friends of Princeton Nursery Land will want some compensation for the lost tree.

In the meantime, we ask, what happened to the felled tree? Gingko trees, known as living fossils, are believed to have medicinal properties, and as we go to press we learn about a new company, PhytoMedical, that has moved to Princeton Overlook. Like two other companies on our roster (PhytoMedics and Phyton Biotech) PhytoMedical sources new drugs from plant materials, and notes that 20 best-selling drugs have come from natural sources.

Maybe the loss of this tree could spur the development of a new drug. We wonder: Can one of these phyto-companies take possession of the stump?

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