Storm fells historic Varina tree
Friday night's ferocious thunderstorm toppled dozens of trees throughout Henrico County, but perhaps none more significant than the one it felled on Route 5 in Varina.
The oak tree that stood for some 150 years there, at the entrance to scenic Tree Hill Farm near the split of New Market Road and Osborne Turnpike, arguably was the most historic tree in the region.
It was known as the Surrender Tree because nearly 150 years ago, beneath its fledgling branches, Richmond Mayor Joseph Mayo surrendered the City of Richmond to Union forces during the Civil War. Six days later, on April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia in Appomattox, essentially ending the war.
In the years since, the tree steadily advanced skyward, ultimately sprawling out high above electrical wires and the two-lane road beneath it, rooted to the ground by a trunk that grew to more than four feet in diameter. It presented a grand welcome to visitors at Tree Hill Farm, ushering them along a rolling, gravel-lined path dotted with other stately, if less historic, oaks toward the farm's 237-year-old manor house.
Even as changes came to the 531-acre farm site – which was sold by the Burlee family to developers in 2006 – the tree remained a constant reminder of the site's significance. (Native American artifacts found on the site have led some to conclude that it may have been the home to the Tsenacommacah tribe of Virginia Indians, led by Chief Powahatan, the father of Pocahontas.)
In late 2007, the Henrico Board of Supervisors approved plans for a large-scale mixed-use development on the site, featuring nearly 2,800 housing units, 1.16 million square feet of commercial space and more than 250 acres of green space. Initial plans called for construction to begin by early 2009, but today the site remains untouched, its future put on hold by a faulty economy.
And so for the past six years, the Surrender Tree stood guard over its lonely but breathtaking Varina home, casting long shadows daily as the setting sun disappeared across the James River.
Until June 29, when at last, the Surrender Tree itself surrendered, uprooting itself as it fell across Route 5. It took power crews a number of hours early the next day to clear the tree from the road, which was closed through late morning.
Perhaps it was fitting that the tree's demise occurred on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Glendale (the fifth of the Seven Days Battles), which occurred just a few miles east in Varina.
Read more about the Surrender of Richmond here: http://www.henricocitizen.com/index.php/news/article/hasty_surrender_leaves_a_lasting_legacy_6327
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