Washington's trees: Letter in display says they were walnut, not cherry
Monday, February 15, 1999
By Jean Bryant, Pittsburg Post-Gazette Staff Writer
So, George Washington really didn't chop down a cherry tree. It's said that myth was invented by Mason Weems, who wrote, "A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington."
But Washington did want to destroy a grove of walnut trees on his property in Bath, Va., to make the land more salable.
In a letter to his nephew Robert Lewis, who was tending to his affairs, Washington penned instructions on how to rid the land of the trees. He offered three options. The third was the most destructive:
"If the tenant is permitted to kill the walnuts by girdling the trees [digging a trench around the base so the roots eventually die], I do not believe that the crops would sustain much injury by their standing."
The 2 1/2-page letter is among the historical documents and artifacts collected by Stan Klos, president of REMAX of Pennsylvania.
Four documents from his REMAX Collection will be on display throughout the month at the main branch of Carnegie Library, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland.
Klos, 45, who is moving from Weirton, W.Va., to Upper St. Clair, collects historical papers. He and his wife, Marie, used to buy and restore historic properties. That led to their start in the real estate business and their interest historic documents.
"When we would buy these properties, we would find papers - old deeds, documents, letters, that sort of thing. You go in the attic of an 18th century house, find a box, open it and lo and behold you got history."
And a true story about Washington and trees.
Klos explains why Washington was anxious to get rid of the trees:
"After the Revolutionary War, Washington was in need of selling his land. And so he wrote his nephew essentially saying, 'We have this tract of land, entice someone to buy the property.' He needed the money."
The display at the library also includes a land deed signed by Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States; an 1833 document with Abraham Lincoln's signature, one of the few Lincoln items available prior to his presidency; and a portrait of Lincoln.
Greg Priore, Carnegie Library archivist, says the four documents in the REMAX Collection are "unique."
"The Lincoln document is definitely important," Priore said. "The Washington letter is funny. Here we have him discussing with his nephew cutting down valuable walnut trees to attract a tenant. The trees were standing in the way of renting out or selling the land. And we have that fable that he cut down a cherry tree."
The REMAX Collection will be displayed alongside a collection of rare books on various presidents of the United States, including the first American edition and the first London edition of Jefferson's notes on the state of Virginia.
"The REMAX Collection makes a nice companion piece for our display for Presidents Day," Priore said.
|Stan Klos lecturing at the Republican National Convention's PoliticalFest 2000 Rebels With A Vision Exhibit in Philadelphia's Convention Hall|
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