A piece of history lost

Belmont lost a piece of history when Bartlett Tree Company took down one of our old cedar trees. The Eastern Redcedar –Juniperus virginiana, was damaged in the high wind event we had earlier in the month. A large section split off from the trunk rendering it unsalvageable.


The tree pre-dates the period of Gari and Corinne Melchers’ recidency, so we know it was more than one hundred years old when it came down.

A “straight range of trees” was a concept landscape gardener Bernard McMahon, friend of Thomas Jefferson, promoted as “proper” in his 1806 book American Gardener’s Calendar. A “range” of trees means a trees planted in a line, usually along walks and drives to provide shade. Cedar allées were popular in the South and are seen in many old landscapes in the Fredericksburg area.

The cedar that was damaged was part of a line of trees that border the stairs running from the house down to the lower pasture in front of the house. The exact planting date is not known, but some of our cedars could pre-date the Civil War period as seen in this drawing circa 1865.

belmont civil war detail

Civil War view of cedar trees and decidious trees

The Eastern Redcedar is a long lived tree that grows moderately fast until it reaches maturity after which it maintains its size almost indefinitely. The U.S. Forest service reports that on average, trees aged 26 to 30 years are 18 to 26 feet tall, expressing a growth rate of approximately 7 inches to 1 foot per year. Mature trees aged 50 and older are usually 40 to 50 feet tall though they may reach 120 feet. Thus, growth rates slow considerably after the first 30 years of a specimen’s life. The cedar at Belmont was about 50 feet tall, meaning it had matured and stopped growing in height.


Circa 1940 view of cedar

The picture above dates to circa 1940, and we can see that the size of the tree is more or less the same as when it was damaged this year. From this we can assume that the tree was fully mature, meaning more than 50 years old, at the time when the photograph was taken. I speculate that Mr. J. B. Ficklen, owner of Belmont from 1824-1874, planted this cedar when he created the stairs to Falmouth, the boxwood lined “Long Walk,” and the horse-shoe shaped stairs in conjunction with expanding his house around 1850. We are leaving the stump in place for now, so bring your magnifying glass and come count the tree rings!

The Bartlett crew took a great panoramic picture from up high in their bucket truck. What a wonderful perspective on Belmont and our old trees.


Panoramic view of Belmont

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