Historic ‘George Washington Tree’ Damaged by Storm

by ARLnow.com July 13, 2012 at 3:54 pm 4,654 30 Comments

Arlington County has revealed that another historic tree was severely damaged in the June 29 derecho storm.

During the storm, a large limb was ripped off the George Washington Tree, a Southern Red Oak at the corner of S. Fern and 31st Streets, on the grounds of the Arlington Water Pollution Control Plant. The tree, which legend holds might have once been surveyed by George Washington, is designated by the Arlington County Board as a “Heritage Tree.”

Whereas Arlington’s historic Post Oak was totally removed earlier this week due to storm damage, the George Washington Tree is expected to survive — but it’s being severely cut back. Once a stately 130 feet tall, the tree has now been trimmed down to 30 feet.

A county worker was seen working on the tree today, using a chainsaw to break the large branches already cut from the tree into smaller pieces.

The county issued a press release below regarding the tree last night (published after the jump).

A tree that popular folklore holds may have been surveyed by George Washington is the latest victim of the June 29 Derecho storm, Arlington County Parks and Recreation arborists confirmed Wednesday.

The Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata), affectionately called “The George Washington Tree,” is 19 feet 7 inches in circumference (it would take five adults joining hands to give it a proper hug). The tree stands on the grounds of Arlington County Water Pollution Control Plant. The June 29 storm ripped a large limb off the tree, exposing a hole big enough for a small person to climb through. Because of the damage, and the tree’s poor health, County arborists have determined that it must be severely cut back for safety purposes.

“We are saddened that two magnificent trees – the Post Oak in Westover and now, our George Washington Tree – were no match for the Derecho that caused so much damage to County trees,” said Parks Director Caroline Temmermand.

Heritage tree

In 2003, citing the tree’s unusual and lengthy history, the County Board designated the George Washington Tree a Heritage Tree, which is a designation given by the County Board for a tree of notable historic or cultural interest.

“The George Washington Tree” gets its name from the notion that the tree was surveyed by the Father of Our Nation. George Washington was indeed a surveyor, working in the area, at the time that the Summer Hill Plantation Property would have been surveyed. The Pearson deed, however, mentioned a chestnut oak delineating a corner of the property.  The fact that the surveyed tree was a chestnut oak brings the facts about this particular tree into question.

Although the tree’s exact age is not known, it is of great age and gives the community a historical perspective. For years, it has served as a majestic reminder of a time when trees were considered sentinels upon the landscape.

Long decline

The George Washington tree has been in decline for years. Although decades ago, a large hollow at its base was filled with concrete in an effort to keep the tree strong (a practice since found to be ineffective and no longer used), the tree stood 130 feet tall, with a circumference of almost 18 feet in 2003. By 2007, storms had battered the tree to a height of about 80 feet. In 2011, it lost a large limb, and was further weakened.

The June 29 storm exposed more hollow limbs and more of the hollow trunk. County arborists, and a consulting arborist, have determined that the tree will have to be reduced to a height of about 30 feet. Only a standing trunk, with a few small branches, will remain. The tree will, however, still provide excellent habitat for wildlife and maintain our connection to Arlington’s historic past.

For information on the County’s Notable Trees program, visit the County website.

  • CW

    Yeah, looks pretty damaged to me from the picture.

  • DarkHeart

    Anyone seen Harvey Updyke in the area?

  • Volo

    Why do they keep calling it a “derecho storm”? If it had been twisty, they wouldn’t call it a “tornado storm”…

    • CW

      When the media discovers a new term, they like to overuse and misuse it in every possible capacity until everyone is sick of it.

      • Westover

        So true. There we some minor storms last week, and some outlets kept telling people “this is NOT a derecho like last Friday. Repeat, this will not be a repeat of the derecho.”

      • Kony Thornheiser

        The media also likes to say it with a Hispanic accent.

        • CW

          Are they going to start referring to Nor’easters as “izquierdos”??

    • Taxpayer

      Actually it is a scientific term well used and documented to describe a fast moving storm system, they are unique:


      • JB

        I think they were just pointing out that it is redundant to use derecho and storm together b/c derecho is a type of storm. You wouldn’t say that was a “tornado storm”, you’d just say tornado. You wouldn’t say that was a “blizzard snowstorm”, you’d just say blizzard.

      • Fredericksburg White Guy

        So even your link only calls it a derecho, not a “derecho storm”, which was Volo’s point.

    • BlueSkies

      It’s also Grand that they put Derecho in Caps to show how Important it was to the County. Methinks they should also call it The Tree.

  • What’s with the stump?

    Looks like it was trimmed by Pepco. They left 30 feet with almost no branches. Wouldn’t it be better just to cut it all down and plant a replacement tree of some sort. From the ArlCo press release, it doesn’t sound as if it has a true tie to George Washington anyways.

    • Vincent Verweij

      We’re leaving it as a wildlife snag. There were a ton of butterflies and other critters living in it, and it doesn’t pose any hazard to the facility now.

  • Young George Washington

    I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet.

  • Taxpayer

    Actually it is a scientific term well used and documented to describe a fast moving storm system, they are unique:


    • Rice Queen

      I’d feel better if this were explained and translated by HayDiosMio, preferably with a reference to how we’re all full of the Spanish word for BS.

  • veeta

    Expected to survive? They cannot be serious.
    Although I am all for letting some dead trees stand for the wildlife habitat they offer, that just looks ridiculous. Kinda like the “totem pole” my Dad left in the backyard when he did not want to pay to have a huge oak taken down entirely.

    • 350sbc

      yeah, no kidding. it resembles a “tall” stump.

    • Vincent Verweij

      Just let it be said that Parks never made that statement :p

  • nom de guerre

    Have you ever heard of a bonsai? If it doesn’t leaf out and grow, I would bet that they would remove the rest of it. They are just giving it a chance as opposed to cutting the whole tree down.

    • drax

      Random guy on the Internet above, speaking as if he cut it down, says it’s being left as a snag.

  • Elmer

    My hope is that they can save it no matter how it looks to some people. And when the day comes when you’re considered old and ugly by others I hope they don’t decide to just cut you down.

    • Joehoya

      Time to convene a death panel for the tree!

  • Arlingtonian

    Where are the souvenir hunters? They were all over the Post Oak, according to media reports.

  • Dezlboy

    George Washington’s dentures came from this tree.

  • Treebeard

    Thhhh-iiiiissss makes me saddddd…

    • Peregrin Took

      Dude, you sound like Gollum.

      Treebeard would say, “this harum-horumer-BOMBEROMMERER, this . . . in your hasty speech “outrage” . . . makes me toomboolallallaroom-tee-toomtytum-tarararara-boom-dee-ay-RARUM-RES-RERUM-RES-REBUS-toom-toom-toom-toom-snooooooooooozzzze”

  • Dr_Klahn

    Out of larger trunk pieces they should make museum quality sculptures paying homage to Arlington’s history, out of smaller branch pieces they should make wooden spoons in tribute to Sam’s Corner.

  • Dewk

    Perhaps it would have survived if they hadn’t used a backhoe to rip through its roots and installed a concrete encased utility duct bank within a few feet of the trunk a few years ago.

  • nooooooooOoooOoOoOOoOOO

    dangit, i love trees y’all


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