Residents mourn lost tree

Published 10:35 pm Thursday, December 2, 2010

Workers with Chessapeake Bay Tree, Inc., cut down a large Southern red oak in a corner of Cedar Hill Cemetery this week. Some community members are upset about the loss.

For some folks in Suffolk, losing the great Southern red oak that towered over a corner of Cedar Hill cemetery for longer than anyone could remember was almost like losing a member of the family.

“It just breaks my heart,” Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society board member Sue Woodward said Wednesday, her eyes tearing up with her emotion.

“I had no idea there was a plan to take it down,” Suffolk resident Byron Carmean said Thursday. “I wish my talking to you would make the tree come back, but it won’t. It’s just a loss.”


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Carmean, who taught horticulture for years in Chesapeake public schools and at Tidewater Community College, is one of the most respected hunters of so-called “champion trees” in Virginia. He lives in Suffolk now and is also a member of the historical society.

He recalled visiting the oak to take measurements about a year ago.

“I did not see that the tree had any major health issues,” he said. “It could have lived another couple of hundred years.”

City officials and the owner of the company that cut the tree down Tuesday and Thursday disagreed, saying that the old tree was diseased and in danger of dropping its huge branches onto pedestrians or gravesites in the cemetery.

“The cavity at the top (of the trunk) was causing the top to break up,” Chris Mowery, owner of Chesapeake Bay Tree Inc., said. Mowery’s crew was back at work in the cemetery on Thursday, where they felled the main trunk, which was the only part of the tree left standing at the end of the day on Tuesday.

The crew will be back on Friday to quarter the massive trunk and cut slices from the stump for posterity.

Mowery said he did a quick count of the rings after dropping the trunk and determined that the tree was about 187 years old. The trunk measured 24 feet in circumference and 7 ½ feet in diameter, he said.

“It was a good-sized tree, no doubt about that,” he said.

Carmean, a contributor to the book “Remarkable Trees of Virginia” — which features two Suffolk trees, but not the red oak — said Cedar Hill’s oak fell short of another that is located in Grizzard.

Still, he said, it was big, and it was old, and the city should have consulted with someone who didn’t have a financial interest in seeing it cut down before allowing it to be felled. An arborist, he believes, would have been able to offer suggestions for saving the tree.

“Maybe it’s not very practical,” echoed Sue Woodward, “but I’d like for [the city] to have done absolutely everything in their power to save that tree.”

At the very least, now that the tree is gone, Carmean said, “Maybe we could encourage someone to plant another in its place.”