A few years ago, Howard Ball showed a large white oak on the Vinson Hall property to his friends and fellow Vinson Hall residents Paul and Jane Peak.
“Howard Ball pointed it out, and I think that he and Paul hoped it would be a record-breaker, but it wasn’t, and then the whole thing was forgotten about from that point on as far as I knew,” said Jane Peak.
The oak, which sits on the outer perimeter of Vinson Hall and hangs over Old Dominion Drive, was forgotten about until Jane Peak mentioned it to local historian Carol Herrick a few months ago. Herrick, who co-chairs “McLean and Great Falls Celebrate Virginia” with Barbara Smith, is also active in the group’s Historical Trees Committee. So when Peak told her about the large Vinson Hall white oak tree, Herrick decided to take a look for herself.
“We’ve been plaque-ing trees throughout McLean and Great Falls and this is something that our committee decided definitely deserved recognition,” said Herrick. “It would be interesting if this tree could talk and tell us what it has seen over the years, because I’m sure it has seen a lot.”
ON TUESDAY, Oct. 30, Herrick and Smith presented an official McLean and Great Falls Celebrate Virginia tree plaque to residents of Vinson Hall. Bruce Gibson, a 10-year resident of Vinson Hall and the head of its Landscaping and Gardening Committee, said the white oak has a circumference of 14 feet and seven inches, and is estimated to be approximately 180 years old.
“Because of this tree’s age, I just imagine the historical things that must have gone on around it,” said Gibson.
According to Herrick, many historical things did indeed happen around the tree, including the Civil War, the construction and tearing down of the Old Dominion railroad line — which is now Old Dominion Drive — the construction of Chesterbrook Shopping Center and the construction of Vinson Hall itself. Herrick said it is amazing that the tree managed to avoid being chopped down through it all.
“The territory along Kirby Road was family verses family during the Civil War, and the Union Army came through and cleared the land for firewood,” said Herrick. “But somehow, this tree missed all that devastation.”
The white oak almost saw its last day during the construction of Vinson Hall. According to Bruce Gibson, a bulldozer was just about to take it down when Dr. Lamont Pugh — one of the founders and builders of Vinson Hall — stepped in front of the tree and put a stop to its demolition.
“We’re very grateful that he did that, because if he hadn’t, it wouldn’t be here today,” said Gibson.