FORT MILL, S.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Hollow limbs and skinny branches cover the ground outside of a Fort Mill post office. Crews began clearing up the area early Wednesday morning, including a decades-old tree.

“When I was a little kid, A school was there, and we would get picked up at the tree. So, my granddaddy used to pick me up, but those trees were huge even back then,” said resident Steve Marks. He’s lived in Fort Mill since 1958.

He says he didn’t know it was coming down until he drove by and saw the damage.

“Most of the people that are alive now that grew up here came through those schools and spent some time under that tree,” Fort Mill historian Mike Short said. He’s been in Fort Mill for 72 years. “For those of us that grew up and allowed that tree to shelter us, to give a shade, to give us solace when our hearts were broken, or we had conversations or teachers had made us mad about something. It was more than just a tree.”

The tree grew for at least 100 years, and Short says it meant more than that.

“Originally, there was a stone wall all the way around the tree before they widened the Tom Hall school. And when we would have our breaks and classes, recess, or lunchtime, there would be a gathering somewhere out there around that tree. Either kids were playing chess or they were sitting around talking about school or their problems. A lot of tears were probably shed under that tree,” he said.

Fort Mill officials posted a notice on Facebook, saying a large limb fell from the tree at the post office. An arborist found several limbs hollowed out by disease, creating a serious hazard for anyone walking or driving underneath.

“I went and parked across the street in the town hall parking lot, which is directly across the street. And I leaned on my car and watched them, bringing it down piece by piece. And it just seemed like each piece that they cut down, they were just cutting out just a little bit of my heart,” Short said.

He says the tree coming down signifies just how much the town has changed since his childhood. The post office property was once the location of A.O. Jones School, where many neighbors like Short went to class.

He lives just feet away from the old school gym, one of its last landmarks. Town officials are commissioning an artist to create a painting to memorialize the tree’s significance.

“They may try to get some of the wood and build a bench out of that. They’re going to replant, you know, the biggest trees they can find. So, in a hundred years, you know, maybe somebody else will enjoy a tree that size. But for those of us that went to school there and spent time there, you know, it’s not enough. You know, there’s just not enough you can do other than to have left the tree alone,” Short said.

“I did not want it to come down,” Short continued. “I would like to have seen them spend a little more time doctoring the tree rather than just taking it all the way down. And I think they could have saved it for, you know, quite a few more years, but that just wasn’t in the cards.”