After weeks of anticipation, the historic elm tree in front of the old courthouse on Main Street came down on Tuesday, May 7.
A small crowd gathered to witness the event, taking photos and videos. Some folks walked away with circular rounds cut from the thicker branches of the tree. Tammy Frazier, a Warrenton native whose husband grew up in Old Town, said that the tree was an important landmark and she wanted a piece of it to remember it by.
Employees at the Red Truck Bakery asked Warrenton Mayor Carter Nevill to grab a couple of pieces of the tree for them and he was happy to oblige.
Warrenton native Kathy Beaver asked workers from Bartlett Tree Experts for a branch from the tree. “I’m going to try to root it,” she said.
Beaver was born within sight of the old tree, at the old hospital on Waterloo Street. “I grew up here,” she said. “I have always admired this tree. When it would storm, I would worry about it, afraid it might get hit by lightning.
“This old tree holds memories for me. When I would look at the historic pictures showing the tree as it was years ago, I remember being in those stores. I guess I’m just a sentimentalist.”
Arborists said the tree was decaying inside and was unsafe. Its location in Courthouse Square also made it a public safety hazard, town officials said.
Beaver said she had hoped there would be some way to save the tree but understood the reasons it had to be removed. “I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt,” she said.
Lori Gibson of the Fauquier Historical Society was there to mark the occasion. Her organization’s researchers estimate the tree is more than 100 years old.
Brother and sister Alek and Glenna Moore represented the younger generation, and each were presented with a piece of the tree. “We just want to remember it,” said Alek.
When most of the branches had been removed from the tree, their mom said it was time to go to school. “They just really wanted to be here,” she said. “And why not?”
Questions about what will happen to the wood from the tree have been swirling around town for weeks. Brandie Schaeffer, interim town manager, said that Terrance Lasher, assistant state forester, reached out to her regarding the courthouse tree. In an email to town council members, she said, “I met with him … on a program they offer called Urban Wood Utilization. They have found that the removal of urban trees often leads to … a landfill because of the complications with milling of trees with nails. They have created a program that matches jurisdictions with artisans that can find the best ways to reuse the urban tree.”
She added, “He confirmed the tree as almost dead and a liability. He pointed out several things including the presence of foliage only on the lower limbs, with those at the highest point being bare. He said this is a simple way to identify the tree is no longer receiving nutrients and doing the job of photosynthesis.”
Scheaffer said that as far as using the wood from the tree for other purposes, “the presence of fungus will determine if it can even be used. He also wanted me to understand how little we will be able to produce with the tree. For every log we cut, we should plan to see it shrink and lose half. … We can get a bunch of small items or one big item, but probably not enough useful wood for both. He said he would choose one big item like a table or bench so there is something to point to long term, but the council could also raise revenue by selling small pieces of the tree.”
Schaeffer said that Lasher is not hopeful about the ability to get a sprout from the tree to “potentially plant a baby version” as there are little to no seeds.