Memories Felled at Sully Historic Site

Red mulberry at sunset   And the boy loved the tree….

—Shel Silverstein

There is a tree at Sully Historic Site that has given everything it had to soothe and please people over the past three decades, and the time has arrived for it to come down. Shel Silverstein’s brilliant story, The Giving Tree, reflects the same feelings that some people will experience when they learn that the largest and best-known tree at the park has reached the end of its run. The red mulberry that dominated the landscape in the open field not far from Sully’s main house has to be taken down.

The Split red mulberry“It is sad, and it is shocking,” said Site Manager Carol McDonnell. The mulberry’s trunk is badly split to the point that a visitor can, standing at the right angle, see through it. McDonnell said the most disappointed people will likely be those who have worked Sully’s annual Fathers’ Day car show. Through recent decades the mulberry has provided shade for the show’s flea market, a resting spot away from summer’s searing heat reflecting off the metal machines, and comfort for staff, volunteers and visitors who have picnicked under the security of its arms.

Still, just as the tree in Silverstein’s book provided rest and value to the boy in the story after it had been cut down, the trees being removed at Sully will have purpose a little longer after they are felled. None of the wood will leave the Sully property. The trees will become mulch along the park trails and firewood to stoke the hearth and warm the house during school programs. There also is hope that the beloved red mulberry will get a feature role in the park’s interpretation. The site’s representative slave quarter is in need of a table, and the mulberry may become the source for that addition. As in Silverstein’s book, the tree will continue to provide a place of rest.

The treasured mulberry is one of several trees being removed during the early 2015 winter months because of safety considerations. Every one of the trees taken down “were either dead, had bad bases, or 90% of the limbs in the top of them were dead,” said Everett ‘Butch’ Loughery, the Park Authority’s Landscape and Forestry manager. “The trees that we’re removing are too dangerous to leave stand,” he said.

“They’re called widow makers for a reason,” said McDonnell.

Trees leaning toward historic buildings also were removed. Loughery said a contractor was hired to prune trees that could be salvaged.

Tree in front of main house

The trees around the park’s main house are actually a historic anachronism. The site preserves the land as it was in the early 1800s, and at that time there were no trees near the main house. Over the years they’ve either been planted by families that lived there or by the arbitrary arborists of nature. Trees, like us, have a life span, and some of those being removed have not been fully leafing out in recent years, and others were beginning to hang over park paths.

Some of the walnut trees along pathways at the historic site were severely damaged in storms, Loughery said. The trunk of another mulberry being removed had split several years ago and was being held together by a bolt that had been driven through the branches of the split. Site visitors may continue to see work being done on the trees into the early spring.

Trees at SullyThe story of the trees at Sully will continue after the removal project. Funding for new plantings is being sought, and there may even be a young red mulberry given a prime placement in the open field near the main house. It will be a chance for another generation of people to grow up with a new giving tree and to share the experiences of those who rested and cooled under Sully’s red mulberry for the past three decades.

And the tree was happy.

– The closing line of The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein


Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Park Authority’s Resource Management Division.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s