The History of the Maplewood Cemetery was written in the growth rings of a mighty White Oak which once shaded the graves of many of Charlottesville’s past residents. This tree began its life as an acorn sprout near the time the land grant was given to the Meriwether Family in 1735. As this tree grew, the ideas of a new country “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal” began to grow. The tree was already casting a shadow when Thomas Jefferson was formulating and writing the Declaration of Independence.
Charlottesville as a town was growing; Maplewood was established as the town’s first public cemetery in 1827. The oldest stone in the cemetery is that of Lettitia Shelby, the wife of Kentucky’s governor who was visiting family in Charlottesville when she died in 1777. She was originally buried in a cemetery off Park St. but her remains and the remains of several others were moved to Maplewood when it was opened.
In 1819 Thomas Jefferson founded UVA on land just outside the town, and the Maplewood Oak was nearing 100 years old.
During the civil war, Charlottesville was largely spared damage. However, the town did participate in the war by housing a large hospital. Maplewood Cemetery contains as many as 100 unmarked Confederate graves as well as marked graves of soldiers who served from other Southern states and died in town.
The Maplewood Oak was witness to and lived through many historic events. The tree saw the turn of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The Civil War, two World Wars, the assassination of President Kennedy and September 11, 2001. However, as with all living things, time takes its toll and the tree suffered damage and began to decline. Maplewood cemetery enlisted the expert arborists of Big “O” Tree and Lawn Service in February of 2006. Pruning and other maintenance services were performed on the tree in hopes to restore it to its former glory.
Unfortunately, the tree lost the battle during the drought of 2008 and died that fall. Big “O” Tree and Lawn Service were called in to remove the tree in December 2009. A crew of six spent four days with a crane from Staunton Machine Works to safely remove the tree. All of the historic stones and masonry work was preserved during the removal process.
Numbers for the Mighty Oak
The white oak of Maplewood Cemetary was an outstanding 275 years old and stood 95 feet tall when it was removed. It had a sizable 160-foot canopy spread and a trunk circumference of 17 feet. The last eight feet of trunk weighed in at 15,000 pounds.
This was certainly a Mighty Oak whose life encompassed the birth and growth of our nation as it kept its vigil over Charlottesville’s first public cemetery. We at Big “O” Tree and Lawn Service have been honored to have worked on this beautiful, majestic tree in this hallowed setting.