Fredericksburg City Beat

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Pamela Gould reports on City Hall. You can reach her at 540-735-1972 or Robyn Sidersky reports on city schools. You can reach her at 540-374-5413 or

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Tulip poplar at James Monroe to be removed Thursday

The word from City Hall is that the tulip poplar that stands between the track and the baseball field at James Monroe High School, visible from U.S. 1, Fall Hill and Washington avenues, has been pronounced dead by schools officials, with the help of two certified arborists.

The tree will be removed Thursday.

This tree is somewhat of a landmark in Fredericksburg. It’s been around since before the Civil War.

Six years ago, when construction started for the new JM building, many area residents expressed their attachment to the tree, and urged the schools to do all they could to protect it during construction.

One letter writer had this to say of the tree:

Beyond the wealth of history it holds in the hundreds of growth rings under its bark, aside from the cool shade for overheated athletes and folks and dogs goofing off on a weekend, that poplar tree is the patriarch of the school and that little U.S. 1 “corner of the world.”

A landmark, a graceful giant, a solemn sentinel, indeed. It needs to be kept safe.

I am awaiting comment from schools officials on what may have caused the tree’s death, but the FLS got a call last week (before the storm) from an area resident who thought they saw a crew preparing to cut the tree down–that could have been generated by someone who saw the tree being inspected. Stay tuned for more information in tomorrow’s print edition of The Free Lance-Star.

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  • TPKeller

    I drove by the tree a little while ago, it looks awful full of green leaves to be dead… I didn’t get out and go walk up to it, but from the road it looks completely healthy. Maybe you can get some of these arborists to explain that for the article tomorrow.

  • th

    I also just saw this tree this afternoon. Doesn’t appear dead to me at all. I wouldn’t argue if you said it was a bit under distress. But,. there are plenty of green leaves. There are a few bare branches, but lots of leaves.

    Prune the tree if need be, but don’t give up on it. We had a tree at home in a similar situation. We finally opted for giving it a good pruning instread of cutting it down. Now it looks much healthier and it is standing strong.

    Give it a while longer. I’m hopefull you won’t be disappointed.

  • Jesse

    Looks healthy to me…it IS old so it isn’t going to look lush. It is most likely in the way of the athletics department and they want it gone. I have been told by arborists that to build that close to a tree of that size is hard on it’s root system. If they truly wanted it to thrive they would not have build anything so close to it. Also, take away organic materials it was use to having around it and then add the amount of foot traffic in the area and hardscapes. Don’t forgot…JMHS athletics comes first.

  • Holly Chichester

    The quote you used, was, in fact, mine…from a Letter to the Editor several years ago during the JMHS construction.

    Actually, I happened to notice the tree’s partial decline just yesterday, no doubt exacerbated by the installation of the track over the outer edge of it’s root zone (a tree’s root zone can extrend beyond it’s dripline–i.e. edge of canopy–and the majority of it’s feeder roots are in the top 12 inches of soil, thus my plea to protect it, lo, those many years ago).

    Yes, it’s got about two-thirds of it’s foliage, but It’s not in great shape. Once it starts on this downward spiral, it can indeed become a liability…case-in-point for the initial effort to protect it in the first place. Construction damage can cause havoc on a root zone.

    That said, based on it’s history (Oh! the things it has seen!) and significance (can you imagine how naked that space will look without it?) I would think the school, faculty, city, students (present and past) would want to look into the possibility of at least extending it’s life for as long as possible (there ARE options), and planting several replacement poplars along the same stretch to prepare for the sad inevitibility.

    I’m going to head over in the morning to take an up-close look.

    Holly C.
    ISA Certified Arborist, VNLA Certified Horticulturist
    Jayem, Class of ’86

  • Bill Jewell

    It’s a shame the tree has to be removed, however, there is a way to preserve the history and the memories surrounding this beloved poplar. There is also a fundraising opportunity. Please contact Bill Jewell @ 540 273 1349. We specialize in reclaiming and re-purposing historic trees in the area.


    The James Monroe Athletic department had nothing to do with the removal of the tree by the softball field. We were not consulted on any part of this process.The tree looked good there and it is sad it didnt survive,I know our Director of Operations did everything possible to save it.

  • Sydney Chichester

    Well, all of the efforts, whatever they were, to save this magnificent tree are a moot point now.
    The tree is no more. The empty space where it had stood for so many decades saddens me terribly. I initiated the first (and probably only call) to my daughter back when I happened to notice all of the heavy trucks, etc. driving back and forth over the root system of the then healthy tree.
    She did her best to get the information out to the right people, offered her help to make sure “things” were done right to protect the tree and the area around it. Then, as fate would have it, she moved far away, and was out of touch with what was happening over the years.
    Flash to the present…
    That HOT, heavy asphalt (?) track was installed only about five feet from the trunk of the tree. The people in charge of the project told the school that the placement would not be a problem. Really? Wonder why they’d say that?!?!
    The extremely high temperatures, combined with the thick, dark surface of the track, plus the weight over the delicate root system, caused the branches on the track side of it to not produce many leaves this year. Try running on this track in weather like we’ve had for weeks now. Sucks the life out of one.
    It did so to the tree as well, but it wasn’t “dead”, just trying to survive the drought and heat wave…like so many of us.
    I was there, standing in the 100 plus degree temperatures yesterday, needing to “be there”, painful as it was, for the tree that I and my daughter had so wanted to protect.
    Now, I can only hope that Bill Jewel and some other wood working artisans WILL be able to use as much of the wood as possible to commemorate the life of such an important part of Fredericksburg’s horticultural history.
    I know I, for one, will want something made from this tree.
    It’s the least I can do, and I want to be reminded of what can happen when folks don’t pay attention to detail or just don’t care about insignificant things such as a tree.
    I suggest they go back and read that short but eloquent poem by Joyce Kilmer…”Trees”.
    The last line says it all.