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Rotary holly tree ready for 29th season
Lights will come on Dec. 5
Bradley Clark, with the city of Gainesville, strings some of the 3,500 new lights on the Rotary holly tree Thursday. - photo by Tom Reed

Christmas on Green Street

What: Hall County Historical Society members in period costumes tell the history of each Green Street home, and carolers will perform on porches. Santa Claus leads the parade, and the festival features a magician, face painter, balloon artist, miniature train rides and carriage rides.

When: 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 with Rotary holly tree lighting at 7 p.m.

Where: Rotary Christmas Tree to First Baptist Church on Green Street

How much: $2 per person for carriage ride, no more than $10 per family. Other events are free.

Contact: 770-503-1319


Bradley Clark never gets tired of decorating Rotary International's holly tree, even after 28 years.

Gainesville's traffic engineer and his staff drive their bucket trucks to the fork of Academy and Green streets every week before Thanksgiving to hang lights and a star on Gainesville's popular Christmas tree.

They wrapped up the decorating Thursday with 3,500 new LED lights that are more efficient, brighter and long-lasting than ever before, Clark said.

"These lights should last for a number of years to come," he said. "Each year, Rotary donates the lights and the city provides the labor. It takes the better part of a day to get all those lights up."

The tree-lighting tradition is in its 29th year, and Clark has only missed one decorating season.

"It's something that traffic engineering has been a part of for many years, and it's something fun and different to do as a part of my job," he said.

The tree is also looking healthier than ever after Gainesville's Rotary Club hired an arborist to assess the damage caused by a fire that burned one side of the tree in June 2009, said Dale Jaeger, last year's Rotary chair for the tree lighting.

"We don't know what happened. Maybe it was a spark from a car going by," Jaeger said. "The whole side of the tree that faces the Chamber of Commerce burned, and in February we got the tree severely pruned to bring it back to life."

The tree caught fire around midnight on June 20.

Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada said fire investigators determined it wasn't intentional, and electrical
components around the tree didn't start the fire.

City officials were worried about the fate of the tree until Anna Hauser, a trained horticulturist and certified arborist with Fine Pruning in Atlanta, trimmed the dead foliage on the side of the tree.

"After damage from the fire and many years of shaping the exterior branches of the tree, the Rotary Holly was in serious need of a rejuvenation," she said Thursday.

"Rejuvenation pruning seeks to generate new growth throughout the tree, not just on the exterior."

After removing interior branches of the tree, she declared the old holly tree with a strong and healthy trunk would recover just fine. She'll return this winter to trim the tree again.

"My pruning efforts last year involved selectively thinning the existing branches so more light reaches the interior branches. This will encourage bud initiation and subsequent growth within the older scaffold branches of the tree," she added.

"This sort of pruning is most effective when carried out in phases, so as to not remove too much of the tree's canopy within any one season. The tree will receive similar attention this year. Our overall goal in pruning the tree is to aid the tree's recovery from the fire damage and also to slowly return it to the more natural form that is typical of an American holly."

The triangle of land was dedicated to Mary John Dunlap Mitchell when she died in 1934 and is maintained by the Rotary Club of Gainesville as a community beautification project.

Mitchell, whose home once stood across the street from the tree, promoted beautification projects around town and was active in the Gainesville Garden Club, which maintained the triangle of land before turning it over to the Rotary Club.

The annual tree lighting tradition started in December 1982, and residents can come out to see this year's lights come on Dec. 5.