Logging on to History

Logging on to History

Storm claims 140-year-old tree at GW estate.

Six months following the flooding and destruction caused by Hurricane Isabel, another victim has been claimed by that September storm.

One of the twin pecan trees that shaded the mansion at Mount Vernon Estate from the summer afternoon sun also became only a memory Monday morning. The tree, 140 years old and 140 feet high, was brought down so that it would not do the same to its twin and damage the famous house they towered over.

Irreparably damaged during Isabel's onslaught last fall, it stood only 115 feet from Washington's home and presented a danger to both the mansion and the other tree which is less than 30 feet from the structure. The storm had left most of its upper weight on the side closest to the house.

"The removal of the tree will significantly alter the landscape here," said Dean Norton, director of horticulture. "For more than a century this tree has framed the mansion and its absence will be felt acutely."

Standing on the lawn with his back to the Potomac River, as a climber, high in the tree's upper reaches prepared to cut the first branches, Norton speculated on the fate of the matching tree.

"We are afraid the other one may have to be removed also. We don't want to gamble on it falling in the event of another storm," he said.

"Although it has been pronounced the healthiest 140 year old tree the arborists have ever seen, it is in a dangerous location," he explained. Norton pointed out that the tree being felled had been damaged by storms over the years and had lost a series of branches. The other is almost picture perfect.

AS EACH BRANCH was cut loose by the tree climber, a large crane, with a boom that stretched above the tree top, lowered it to the ground. Each log was cut as large as possible in order to preserve the wood, which is classified as hickory. What will be done with that wood has not been determined, according to Emily Coleman, assistant director of marketing at the Estate.

Washington planted pecan nuts at various times in an effort to grow trees, according to historical research. He also received pecan seedlings from Thomas Jefferson in 1794. However, photographic evidence taken of the Estate over the years dates the now downed tree as being planted in the 1860's.

Norton had a folder of such photos showing the mansion before and after the twin trees were planted. One of them showed another large tree just behind where the remaining pecan now stands. It too no longer exists.