``I feel like a member of my family died,'' said Josephine Leuzzi, crumpled tissue in hand, to neighbors who came by last night to pay their final respects.
News of the death spread. Neighbors who heard the crackling tree branches came out over the weekend to survey the damage. Drivers who pass the hilly road on their way to work noticed something wrong on the day after Memorial Day.
``Did it happen today?'' wondered one man who stopped his car at Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church across the street.
At least 20 commuters paused this morning to knock on the Leuzzis' door and offered condolences, said Frank Leuzzi.
To longtime residents of Solebury Township, the tree marked a constant - the one thing that had been there before they built their houses and the one thing that could, perhaps, outlive them.
``The Indians traded underneath this tree,'' said Ron Kavas, who owns a barn within view of the once majestic tree, whose limbs had shaded a swath at least 30 feet wide. ``It's like a piece of the past that was still living.''
Locals saw fit to hold rites-of-passage beneath the historic tree, said Bernadette Vescio, 46, the Leuzzis' daughter. Couples have gotten married, she said. Children have been christened. One boy earned his Eagle Scout badge there.
Only in 1990 did the tree show its first signs of aging, when one of its branches fell to the ground, Josephine Leuzzi said.
In 1997, the Leuzzis fenced in the tree, fearing that another wayward branch could injure someone. Josephine Leuzzi had just started thinking how healthy the tree looked, in the weeks before it passed away.
Residents gathered with their dogs and their children to hold an impromptu memorial service, lighting incense and reading poems that had been written for their dear friend 15 years ago on its 500th birthday. Abigail Boehm, 41, performed a silent dance.
Mira Nakashima of New Hope, a wood artisan and daughter of the late sculptor George Nakashima, watched the ceremonies and said she hoped she could obtain part of the tree and sculpt it. She is already working on a lectern for a church from the remains of the 1990 fallen branch.
Her father, who died in 1990, was well-known for making furniture from slabs of wood crosscut from massive trees.
``You give the wood new life when you build things from it,'' she said.