A Norway Spruce fit for Fido – and a grand estate

Norway Spruce at the Read Estate. Photos by Paul Pawlowski.

By Steven Froias

Contributing Writer

The location of this month’s tree – a beautiful, evergreen Norway Spruce – has gone to the dogs. Literally. 

The property that once was known as the Read Estate is now without its signature house.  Instead, it’s an open expanse of property in the meticulously plotted west end of New Bedford on Hawthorn Street, just a few blocks down the street from St. Luke’s Hospital. 

And, it is known and commonly used as…New Bedford’s unofficial dog park.  So much so, that it even has a Facebook page with that name! 

All that remains of the estate is a formidable stone fence defining the boundary of the grassy space, where this month’s entry in the Trees of New Bedford series resides. 

Our Norway Spruce, however, once had plenty of human as well as canine company. 

According to Spinner Publications, Hawthorn Street in the 1870s was mostly pastureland – until Leander and Elizabeth Plummer acquired a “vast” amount of land and created the Plummer Estate.  Leander was one of the pioneer businessmen of New Bedford as one of the founders of the New Bedford Cordage Company – and also an artistic soul.

“He was educated at the Friends Academy, attended Harvard, and then went to art school in Paris, France,” Spinner reports. “Mr. Plummer made outstanding woodcarvings of marine life, which were exhibited in natural history museums throughout America.”

Leander died in 1884, and Elizabeth parceled out pieces of the estate to her four children in 1886. In that year, their oldest son, Charles Warren Plummer, married Mary Child Baker and constructed a grand home at 163 Hawthorn Street – what would eventually become our Read Estate and a home for our Norway Spruce.

“Mr. Charles W. Plummer owned the house and lived there until after 1902.  Mr. Plummer was the president of the New Bedford Cordage Company and was a merchant with an office in the Masonic Building,” states Spinner.

Then – about 1907 – William C. Hawes, who was a banker and broker – owned the house.  He also had offices located in the Masonic Building and used to rent safe deposit boxes in his office vault among other banking business.  He owned the house until after 1915, and then…

By 1923, Joseph Masters Read owned the house.  He was a cotton broker. In 1916, he had founded the firm of Nicholas & Read, who were cotton merchants and dealt with Egyptian textiles.  The trade must have been a robust one, as Read stayed in the home at 163 Hawthorn Street that would come to bear his name until he died in 1957.

By 1966, St. Luke’s Hospital owned the house and property – but alas, it was not to last long.  For in that year of 1966, the Read estate was consumed by fire – “of suspicious origin,” according to Spinner.

Which is why today, our Norway Spruce stands amid a lawn of green grass with many of the neighborhood pups, pooches or mutts as company. 

St. Luke’s Hospital owns and maintains the land, and presumably everyone is on their best pooper scooper behavior on the property, as the unofficial dog park situation seems to be working out fine.

But for how long?  There has been some talk that the hospital may use the land for additional parking or some other use at some point.

Which may or may not imperil our Tree of the Month and would also change the genteel character of Hawthorn Street. 

Let’s hope that the old saying is true that every dog has its day – indeed, very many of them under an evergreen Norway Spruce on the former Read Estate on Hawthorn Street in New Bedford. 

Click here to learn more about the Trees of New Bedford series. 

Norway Spruce at the Read Estate

By:  Joseph Ingoldsby, ASLA, Landscape Architect


  • Common Name:  Norway Spruce
  • Botanical Name:  Picea abies


Location of this month’s Tree of New Bedford:  Read Estate dog park, 163 Hawthorn Street, New Bedford – near St. Luke’s Hospital and across from the North end of Page Street.  


  • w3w address:  stands.form.crust
  • Circumference:  approx. 6’ around
  • Diameter:  approx. 23”
  • Height:  approx. 75’ tall


  • Age:  approx. 115 years old which would mean that it was planted around 1905.  What were you doing then?
  • Distinguishing features: Norway spruce is a pyramidal evergreen conifer with graceful pendulous branching on mature trees, which can reach upwards to 100 feet. 
  • Spring features: Norway spruce has monoecious flowers including axillary male flowers and terminal female pink flowers on the crowns of the evergreen trees.  Buds are reddish brown with needles emerging purple to a bright green offset by persistent deep green needles. 
  • Summer features: The Norway spruce has lustrous deep green needles all year.  Pendulous cones emerge purple to green reaching 4” to 6” in length on the branches of the evergreens in summer. 
  •  Fall features: The deep green pendulous Norway spruce sets a somber tone in the landscape against the brightly colored fall foliage of deciduous trees.  However, the brown cones visible in fall attract red squirrels, who chatter from the branches as they gather the cones. Piles of cones litter the ground beneath the Norway spruce in autumn.  Cones are produced after a tree has reached 30 years, with good seed crops every 3 to ten years depending on the location, climate, and conditions. 
  • Winter features:  In winter, the Norway spruce is at its stately best.  It is a presence in the snow. Its branches laden with snow droop down to form a shelter against the wind and cold.  In winter, Norway spruce groves provide a microclimate within each tree’s low and dense branches for sheltering birds and animals. 
  • Crown: The Norway spruce sends out shallow lateral roots to support its height.  As such, in open areas, it is subject to toppling in heavy winds and rains.  A well grown mature Norway spruce makes a magnificent specimen tree in cold climates.  An average tree in Massachusetts will reach 60’ in height by 30’ in width. The national champion is 120’ by 66’ at Hamilton College, Clinton, NY. 1 
  • Use:  Norway spruce is best used as a specimen evergreen tree or as a windbreak.  It provides shade in summer and cover in winter. Its mature height and spread limits its use in confined areas.  The wood is strong, soft, straight, and finely grained. The wood is used for pulp, construction, furniture, and musical instruments.  Norway spruce provides habitat and food for a range of species. Red and gray squirrels and seed-eating birds relish the cones. Grouse will eat the needles.  Rabbits browse the seedlings. It provides cover for nesting and roosting birds through the seasons. Herons and falcons favor the Norway spruce as nesting trees. 2
  • History:  The Norway spruce is native to northern and central Europe from the plains of the Balkan peninsula to the forests of Switzerland, Norway, and from Northern Finland to the Ural Mountains. Senescence occurs at less than 200 years of age in the British Isles and North America. 2
  • History in the USA:  The Norway spruce was introduced to America in colonial times.  Within its native range, Norway spruce remains healthy up to 200 years, and lives up to 300 to 400 years at the northern limits of its range where mature trees tower over 200’ in height. 2  
  1. Michael Dirr, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Stipes Publishing, LLC, 1998
  2. Sullivan, Janet, Picea abies: Habitat Types and Plant Communities; Management Considerations.  In: Fire Effects Information System, 1994. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.