The Man Who Loved Trees

Though I never knew him, I have felt particular affection for my great-grandfather, Thomas Francis Dolan, and it’s because of a story my mother told from her childhood in the aftermath of the great New England hurricane of September 21, 1938.

Thomas Dolan was born in County Roscommon on 8 December 1863, to John and Ann Dolan. He disembarked in the port of Boston, Massachusetts on 4 May 1874, when just 10 years old. [1] Because of the commonality of Irish immigrants named Dolan in Boston, details of his history remain unknown. To compound the issue, in 1890, Thomas married a 22-year-old domestic named Bridget Agnes Dolan, at St. Thomas Aquinas Church. [2]

As a young man, Thomas learned the trade of plastering and made a living for his young family that grew to include six children. Sometime before the 1910 census, he became an employee of the City of Boston. He spent the remainder of his working life as a gardener for the Parks Department. [3] [4]

The steady job enabled Thomas and Bridget to buy a house, at 108 Brown Avenue in the Roslindale neighborhood. When she was young, my mother fled there when she got into trouble or was irked by some perceived injustice at home. (Grandmother Bridget would give her a dusting cloth and set her to work.) Mom knew her grandfather brewed beer in the cellar and would disappear below to enjoy a drink in peace.

With the homes within walking distance, Mom recounted that her elderly grandfather routinely planted and maintained flowers outside their house, pushing his wheelbarrow of up a steep hill to get there, an act of love and joy.

After that awful, unexpected, September storm hit, the nation reeled. An account states, “At the Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, just south of Boston, winds reached 121 mph, with gusts nearing 200 mph, still the second highest winds ever recorded in the Bay State. Boston and the northern tier of Massachusetts were spared the worst of the storm.” [5]

Library of Congress | New England hurricane. Apple orchard in Connecticut. [6]

In addition to the lives, homes and businesses lost, so many trees were blown down that President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration took two years and 15,000 workers to clear the destroyed trees. Paper mills processed them for nine years. [7]

One day following the hurricane, Thomas arrived with his wheelbarrow at my mother’s house to assess the damage to the yard. On discovering a large a tree pushed over, its roots torn from the earth, the 75-year-old braced himself and used his back to push the tree upright, before resettling its roots. Watching him from the window, eyes agog, were his grandchildren. The vivid impression he made on my mother has endured more than 80 years, as I pass it on.

In the 1940 census, two years after his herculean feat, Thomas Dolan was listed as “unable to work.” [8] He died in 1943 [9] of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, which seems oddly apt to me, for a man who so loved trees.

Sources / Citations

(1) Ancestry.com : Massachusetts, Petitions and Records of Naturalizations, 1906-1929. National Archives at Boston; Waltham, Massachusetts; ARC Title: Copies of Petitions and Records of Naturalization in New England Courts, 1939 – ca. 1942; NAI Number: 4752894; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: RG 85DescriptionDescription: Petitions, V 148, 1887-1888.

(2) AmericanAncestors.org : Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1900. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2017. (From records supplied by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston) https://www.americanancestors.org/DB1708/i/53711/81/0.

(3) Ancestry.com : 1920 United States Federal Census. Census Place: Boston Ward 23, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: T625_740; Page: 17B; Enumeration District: 541; Image: 38.

(4) Ancestry.com : 1930 United States Federal Census. Census Place: Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: 956; Page: 26B; Enumeration District: 0502; Image: 1040.0.

(5) Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities; MassMoments : September 21, 1938 Hurricane Devastates New England; https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/hurricane-devastates-new-england.html.

(6) Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress); Dick, Sheldon, photographer; taken 1938 Sept.

(7) New England Historical Society; The Great 1938 Hurricane, A Once-In-A-Lifetime Storm; https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/great-1938-hurricane/

(8) Ancestry.com : 1940 United States Federal Census. Census Place: Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: T627_1679; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 15-681.

(9) Ancestry.com : Massachusetts, U.S., Death Index, 1901-1980. Rec. Date: 8 Jan 2016; 1941-1945; Columbare – Gardsfelt.

1 thought on “The Man Who Loved Trees

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.