By Ashley Herriman
The only thing anyone knows for sure about the huge Japanese white pine that shades Belmont Park’s paddock is that it’s very, very old.
Exactly how old is anyone’s guess – NYRA horticulturists cite the age at 175 years, while according to a 1968 NYRA historical publication, the tree was planted in 1826, long before Belmont Park was even a twinkle in August Belmont II’s eye.
In either case, the tree – scientifically known as Pinus Parviflora – dates to the Manice estate, part of the original parcel of land on which Belmont Park was built. The Manice estate contained the 19th century Tudor-Gothic mansion which served as the Turf and Field Club until 1956.
Another notable feature of the Manice property was the preponderance of trees, many of them already very old when Belmont was being constructed in 1903. The mansion, “stood in a setting of ancient trees, one of which, known as the Cathedral Beech, was 200 years old. Another was a Cedar of Lebanon brought to this country from the Holy Land by the Manice Family.”
The white pine would have been young compared to these relics, but could very well date back to the days of the Manice estate. The tree probably faced destruction more than once during its long life. There was reportedly a sawmill erected on the Belmont property “to handle the vast amount of lumber needed for construction of the stands, barns, and other buildings.”
The story goes that August Belmont and builder William C. Whitney arrived at the site one day “as a work force was zealously cutting down some of the ancient trees on the site. Horrified at this irreverence, they issued immediate orders to halt the vandalism and save as many trees as possible.” Perhaps the white pine was among them?
The tree was officially incorporated into the official Belmont Park logo in 1968, the year the new grandstand was opened. During Belmont’s reconstruction, the tree was allegedly marked for destruction but again escaped the axe and has remained a part of the paddock landscape ever since.
Whatever its true story, the white pine has deep roots at Belmont Park.
*All information quoted from Belmont Park: 1905-1968, A NYRA publication issued upon Belmont Park’s reopening in 1968.