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WWI Memorial Trees along Portland's Baxter Boulevard

Payson Park and Baxter Boulevard WWI memorial tree dedication, Portland, 1920
Payson Park and Baxter Boulevard WWI memorial tree dedication, Portland, 1920Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Text by CPT. Jonathan D. Bratten, Command Historian, Maine Army National Guard
Images courtesy of Maine Historical Society and Boston Public Library

The construction of Baxter Boulevard was completed in 1917, the year that the United States entered “The Great War.” More than 32,000 Mainers served in the conflict, with over 1,073 making the ultimate sacrifice. On Memorial Day of 1920, the City of Portland planted 100 Linden trees on Forest Avenue, each dedicated to the memory of one military service member who had died in the war or who had served honorably.

These trees were transplanted to Baxter Boulevard and lined the Boulevard from Forest Avenue to Brown’s Point. This became known as the Baxter Boulevard Memorial Grove. The idea of a memorial grove was not uncommon at the time. Memorial groves were planted across the country although only a few have survived. Portland’s Linden trees remain one of the few existing memorial groves and it is the largest World War I memorial in the state. Each tree was marked with a small metal disc bearing a number. This number corresponded to a service member, most of whom were from Portland, and many of which died in the war.

The memorial trees paint a picture of how men from Portland served all over the world and in some of the pivotal battles of World War I. The first tree was dedicated to the first Maine man to die in action in the service of the United States: Corporal Harold T. Andrews, from Portland. Tree #23 was dedicated to Corporal Jacob Cousins, the first Jewish soldier from Portland to die in the war. All branches of the military were represented. Tree #15 was in the memory of Ensign Ralph D. Caldwell, whose ship was torpedoed in the Atlantic by a German U-Boat. Tree #66 was for Corporal Gordon S. O’Donnell, US Marine Corps, killed in the pivotal battle of Belleau Wood on June 7, 1918.

Baxter Boulevard, Portland,  ca. 1938
Baxter Boulevard, Portland, ca. 1938Item Contributed by
Boston Public Library

Immigrants to the US were commemorated as well, such as Private Paolina Pellacia (Tree #67) from Italy, who enlisted into the Maine National Guard and on July 20, 1918 taking Hill 190 in the Aisne-Marne offensive. And lest we forget that bullets and shells were not the only killers in that war, there were many trees dedicated to the men who died of disease. Such as Private Harry B. Putnam (Tree #70) who died at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, probably of the deadly Spanish Influenza. Not all trees were for the men who died; some commemorate those who served honorably, such as Lieutenant Commander Reuben K. Dyer (Tree #29) who was the commander of the Maine Naval Militia before the war and served in the US Navy throughout the war in many prestigious positions.

Memorial Grove stands as a visual reminder of the cost of war and of Portland’s patriotism. As you enjoy the shade cast by the trees, spare a memory for the veterans of World War I and the world that they tried to create.