Pow-Wow Oak Tree

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The Mighty Pow-Wow Oak on Clark Road in Belvidere, January 1974 (Photo by George Koumantzelis)

The Pow-Wow Oak is an historic tree located in the Belvidere neighborhood of Lowell, Massachusetts. ("Belvidere" means "beautiful to behold" in the Italian language.) This 300-year-old tree is believed to have served as a gathering place for pow wows held by the Native American Wamesit tribe. ("Wamesit" is an Algonquian word meaning: "a cornucopia of plenty for all.") The Wamesit Indians congregated in this area for thousands of years, and the land on which this tree grew on (which was high ground with an underground spring close by) was held as sacred to them as was the tree itself. It is also said that Revolutionary War soldiers such as Deacon Thomas Clark, Captain John Trull, and General Joseph Varnum, as well as others from this New England hamlet, traveled past the Pow-Wow Oak on their way to defend Lexington and Concord on Patriots Day, April 19, 1775. This was the very beginning of the American Revolution, which started in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In the year of 1909, Middlesex County decided to pave Clark Road in Lowell, Massachusetts. At that time, it was still an old dirt and gravel road that was referred to as "the old bridal path" that lead from this area of Belvidere to Billerica Center, which is where the church was for these colonial immigrants before it became the town of Tewksbury. Mr. Albert E. O'Heir, an immigrant from Canada, who lived in the old Hunt Home at 241 Clark Road, loved the old tree and did not want to see it cut down. At that time, the road curved more to the east, and the tree was was standing right in the middle of the road! Mr. O'Heir owned many acres of land both to the north of the tree as well as to the west of the tree. "In order that the tree might stand" - as it is quoted as being Mr. O'Heir's own words in documented records saved at the DAR's archival library at the Spaulding House on Pawtucket Street, in Lowell, MA - Mr. O'Heir graciously 'donated,' for one cent to the City of Lowell, 9,463 square feet of his land on Clark Road in order to save the tree! Most of this land was on the western side of the tree. This is all legally documented in two places in the public records at Lowell City Hall and at the North Middlesex Registry of deeds. Those documents are the City of Lowell's December 28, 1909 "Joint Resolution to define the lines and establish the grade of Clark Road from Andover Street to the City Line," as well as the March 1, 1911 M-54 Map of Clark Road that clearly shows where the exact location of the land was that Mr. O'Heir generously donated to save the tree. This allowed the tree to remain standing up on the bluff in the east so that the road could now be curved to the west and out of the way of the tree. This is why we have honored Mr. O'Heir with the well-deserved title: "The Original Protector."

In May 1931, the Molly Varnum Chapter of the Massachusetts Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) erected a sign next to the tree to commemorate the ancient oak, the Wamesit Indians, and the local militia who passed by it while traveling through that Lowell neighborhood (then still part of the town of Tewksbury) during the Revolutionary War.[1][2]

In September, 2009, a local, grass-roots, neighborhood, environmental organization called the Pow-Wow Oak Protectors (a registered, non-profit, public-charity), founded by George Nicholas Koumantzelis, was formed to ensure the continued safety of the tree, as it had been thoughtlessly and illegally encroached upon for decades, doing damage to its health.[3]

Over many months during the year of 2010, George Koumantzelis, personally, "walked the neighborhood," going to every single family home, apartment rental duplex, condominium, business, warehouse, and / or to any other building in site on the street in the 01852 area code of Belvidere in Lowell (and beyond out into Tewksbury in the east and south), and distributed fliers to help raise consciousness and funds to save the Pow-Wow Oak. This resulted in the raising of over forty-five hundred dollars from common folks from far and wide who sent in their checks of five, and ten, and twenty, and fifty, and hundreds of dollars to help save our beloved old tree on Clark Road - an old Indian trail, and later on an old Yankee cow path, that originally spanned from the Merrimack River in the north to the heart of Wamesit in what is now Tewksbury in the south. Some people donated more than once!

In May 2011, local groups, including a current chapter of the Old Concord DAR and the Pow-Wow Oak Protectors, raised funds to have the tree's commemorative sign refurbished.[2] The Pow-Wow Oak has also been recognized and preserved by the American Forests Historic Trees Program,[4] and by the City of Lowell via the Pow Wow Oak Tree Preservation Covenant, which was recorded on March 12, 2012, at the Middlesex (North District) Registry of Deeds, Book 25799, Page 105.

Pow-Wow Oak Commemorative Sign, January 1974 (Photo by George Koumantzelis)

In May 2011, a documentary movie called "The Last Pow-Wow Oak" about the Pow-Wow Oak and the crusade to save it by the Pow-Wow Oak Protectors, as well as other, local, concerned groups, was produced and released by local artist, musician, film maker, and documentarian, Andrew Szava-Kovats. In March 2014, an accompanying book (with the same title) to the movie, including more detailed legal documents and historical data about the whole Pow-Wow Oak saga, was written and produced by Andrew Szava-Kovats.

On June 5 of 2011, a benefit concert was held in Lowell to raise funds for the saving of the Pow-Wow Oak - "The Pow-Wow Oak Benefit Concert." It was held in downtown Lowell at the former OLE Hispanic Food Restaurant on Merrimack Street. Many local, ecological activists, artists, bands, musicians, poets, and speakers contributed their talents, gratis, to raise consciousness and money for the salvation of the land and the tree, including: Chief Onkwe Tase, the founder of the Greater Lowell Indian Cultural Organization, along with his daughter and son-in-law, Anne and Mark Fraser; Alan Crane; Peter Simopoulos, George Koumantzelis and Friends; The Octagon Space Tribe Band (including Jane Litwin Taylor, Patrick Taylor, Greg Franceschi, Bill Pearmain, George Koumantzelis, Andy Kaknes, and Jeanne Zagami); Alex Cohen; Keith Blanchet and Friends (including Leo Tanguay, and George Koumantzelis); The Kevin Stevenson Trio (including Andy Kaknes and Todd Rourke); Reverend JJ and The Casual Sinners (including Justin Burns, Kevin Roche, and Andy O'Brien), Alligator Wine (including Gil Feeney, Lee Sullivan, Sparky Warsnip; Mike Dion, Matt Siopes, and John Normandin); and Jochemo (now called J Connection, including Seth Rohrer, Benjamin Ross Gilsenberg, Scott Stangle, and Matthew Stangle); and "Wireless" Mike Flynn from WCAP and "Almost Acoustic" at WUML who served as the Master of Ceremonies. Andrew Szava-Kovats was also on hand, distributing his documentary movie about the Pow-Wow Oak which he had just completed. Over seven-hundred dollars in cash was raised from non-tax-deductible ticket sales. Every penny of that cash went to saving the Pow-Wow Oak, and not a dime of it went to legally-allowed "administrative expenses!"

On September 29, 2012, a ceremony was held at the site of the Pow-Wow Oak, commemorating the covenant created by the City of Lowell, and the sacred Wamesit land where the mighty tree stood for centuries (See Photos Below!). Granite stone bounds with markers indicating the boundaries of the covenant (carved out of the greater, city-owned, right-of-way, public land) were installed and totally paid for by the Pow-Wow Oak Protectors, as was the survey of the land and the plot-plan registration with the Registry of Deeds. Not a dime of public, taxpayer dollars went into the creation of this protected space or into the installation of the much-needed monument that filled-in the missing gaps about the history of what was called "The Pow-Wow Oak Land of Belvidere." Many members of the Pow-Wow Oak Protectors, the Belvidere Neighborhood Group, as well as people from the neighborhood who loved the tree attended this event. (Videos of this ceremony can be watched on You Tube.) On this day, the Pow-Wow Oak Protectors were honored with Congressional recognition from U.S. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (Democrat, Massachusetts) who lives in the neighborhood and who was also very instrumental in helping the grassroots group to save both the tree and the land which nurtured its deep and mighty roots for hundreds of years.

On May 21, 2013, during a very strong wind storm, a large upper branch (not the lower horizontal "arm" that pointed west) of the Pow-Wow Oak collapsed onto nearby Clark Road.[5] The following day, the decision was made by the City Manager's Office of the City of Lowell to, questionably, cut down the entire tree to the ground because extensive interior decay in the mid to upper sections of the tree (but not the lower trunk area of the tree!) had more than partially compromised the tree and the safety of pedestrians and nearby motorists.[6]

On Thursday, November 12, 2015, a dedication ceremony was held at the Peter W. Reilly Elementary School on Douglas Road in Lowell, MA, commemorating the installation of a permanent display of a huge round piece of the trunk of the Pow-Wow Oak, along with the dedication of a wall plaque called "The Pow-Wow Oak Tree of Belvidere," honoring two beloved members of the Pow-Wow Oak Protectors: Eugene Winter (historian and archaeologist from the Robert S. Peabody Museum in Andover, Massachusetts) and Chief Onkwe Tase (founder of the Greater Lowell Indian Cultural Organization and the United Native American Cultural Center at Devens). The plaque also contains a short history of the old mighty and majestic oak and the sacred land that it stood on for centuries!

In attendance were many members of the Pow-Wow Oak Protectors as well as many members of the Belvidere Neighborhood Group. George Nicholas Koumantzelis, founder of the Pow-Wow Oak Protectors, gave a short presentation about the quest to save the tree and thanked all of the people involved over the years who helped to make that happen. Both Lowell City Councilor, Rita M. Mercier, as well as the Mayor of Lowell, Rodney M. Elliott, were there to speak on behalf of the City of Lowell, showing gratitude to all of the people who were involved over the years between 2009 and 2015 for their unwavering dedication to the preservation of the land, the tree, and the traditions in the City of Lowell that have developed around the old mighty oak. Also in attendance were Chief Onkwe Tase, our Native American spiritual elder and his daughter, Anne Fraser, who spoke about the Native American history surrounding the Pow-Wow Oak as well as the current issues facing the Native American community in the greater Lowell area today. Lastly, Nancy Winter, the daughter of our good friend and historical mentor, archaeologist and historian, Eugene Winter, spoke about her father and how she, too, was inspired and influenced by the tradition at the Reilly Elementary School of the teachers taking the children during nice weather on field trips up the hill and over to the old and mighty tree to keep the spirit of the Native American culture and the American Revolution alive and well for all time. ... It was a wonderful event!


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Historic Spot Marked - Pow Wow Oak in Clark Road Set Apart by Members of Molly Varnum Chapter," Lowell Sun, May 30, 1931.
  2. ^ a b Massachusetts Daughters of the American Revolution, Bay State News, Volume 4, Fall Issue (August 2012), page 8.
  3. ^ "Lowell group pushes to save historic oak" Lowell Sun (LowellSun.com), May 2, 2010
  4. ^ "Preserving history: Pow Wow Oak Ceremony" Tewksbury Town Crier, October 8, 2012.
  5. ^ [1] Painful Bough for Lowell's Pow-Wow Oak, Lowell Sun, May 22, 2013
  6. ^ [2] Iconic Pow-Wow is felled, Lowell Sun, May 22, 2013

07. THE SAVING OF THE POW-WOW OAK by George Nicholas Koumantzelis, Founder - Pow-Wow Oak Protectors - https://www.facebook.com/notes/george-nicholas-koumantzelis/the-saving-of-the-pow-wow-oak/729195597115178

08. SAVE THE POW WOW OAK, AT WAMESIT!!! Facebook Page by Ed O'Keefe - https://www.facebook.com/groups/501300170083/

09. The Giving Tree: Pow-Wow Protectors help save historic Lowell oak - by Jennifer Myers, HOWL Magazine - http://www.howlmag.com/index.php/word-on-the-street/262-the-giving-tree

10. The Last Pow-Wow Oak - documentary (2011) - The Film - by Andrew Szava-Kovats - http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Pow-Wow-Oak-documentary/dp/B0053IBSDC

11. The Last Pow-Wow Oak: a Documentary (2014) - The Book - by Andrew Szava-Kovats - http://www.amazon.com/Last-Pow-Wow-Oak-Documentary/dp/1496172388/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395618322&sr=1-1&keywords=pow+wow+oak

12. The True Age Media page on the Pow-Wow Oak - http://trueagerecords.home.comcast.net/~trueagerecords/powwowoak.htm

13. The Indian Country Today page on the Pow-Wow Oak - http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/02/pow-wow-tree-no-longer-grows-lowell-149662

14. The Last Pow-Wow Oak Trailer page on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCCTn8PQEJo

15. The Lowell Sun Final Chapter video - http://www.lowellsun.com/news/ci_23305874/final-chapter-closes-historic-pow-wow-oak

16. The Last Pow-Wow Oak at Lowell Film Festival - http://lowellfilmcollaborative.org/2011/06/04/the-lowell-premiere-of-the-last-pow-wow-oak-an-historical-documentary-movie-june-18/

17. Last Pow-Wow Oak Trailer at Richard Howe.com - http://www.richardhowe.com/2011/04/19/trailer-the-last-pow-wow-oak-documentary/

18. The Greater Merrimack Valley Visitors Bureau site on the Pow-Wow Oak - http://www.merrimackvalley.org/page.php?wpage=home/citytown.htm&town=Lowell

19. The Native Strength site on the Pow-Wow Oak- http://nativestrength.com/2012/02/16/help-save-the-historic-pow-wow-oak-tree/

20. George Koumantzelis on YouTube with a 4-Part Video on saving the Pow-Wow Oak - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EWWHE_xyS0

21. George Koumantzelis on YouTube on Patriots Day - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8snev9iZf3A

22. The Pow-Wow Oak Protectors on YouTube on Commemoration Day - Part One of Three Parts - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDfzPw4vWyA

23. The Last Days of the Pow-Wow Oak - by George Nicholas Koumantzelis - Founder, Pow-Wow Oak Protectors - https://www.facebook.com/notes/george-nicholas-koumantzelis/pow-wow-oak-protectors-up-date-june-5-2013-the-last-days-of-the-pow-wow-oak-part/586333514734721

24. The Pow-Wow Oak Tree Display Ceremony - November 12, 2015 - Peter Reilly Elementary School - https://www.facebook.com/events/1069681813050978/