And in a flash, it was gone.
We’re getting better at preserving and cherishing our history and heritage around here. A fairly new Elkin trail commemorates the old railroad line up to the mountains and includes markers that instruct on the hometown’s early industrial history. Similarly, we’re coming along with work on the Overmountain Victory Trail.
We did not tear down but instead preserved the Hollywood heyday-era Reeves Theater. On Big Elkin Creek, we’re going to preserve the historic and majestic Carter Falls.
Up in Mount Airy they built a fine museum to immortalize native son and late Hollywood star Andy Griffith that will stir awe among us and future generations.
But now what to do about the granddaddy of them all, the Tory Oak?
The bad storm last Monday blew down the historic oak in back of the old courthouse square in Wilkesboro. The Tri-Counties’ oldest historical memorial, dating from the Revolutionary War, was crafted not by the hands of man but by nature. So how can it be restored, preserved now by man?
The tree — its significance understated in recent times and its location hard to know unless you stumbled upon it — symbolized an idea bequeathed by a prior generation that wanted to remind us and those after us of the precious gift of American independence and freedom, and its costly price.
The remnants of Hurricane Hugo blew down the original tree in 1989. A graft, called Tory Oak Jr., grew to take its place as a living history monument to the Revolutionary War.
History tells us that five Tories who sided with England were hung on the original tree, five of many victims of that horrible conflict.
Now the second-generation tree is gone, too.
The Tory Oak was different. It was an original. It was a natural artifact, not a memorial crafted long after the fact. It was not history in dusty books or faded photographs. It was a piece of history that lived, that breathed (via photosynthesis). It grew green in spring and turned color in fall.
And it spoke to us. When the original oak stood you could almost walk up to it and ask for its eyewitness recounting of history and expect an answer.
People long ago felt the Tory Oak grounds important enough to treat as hallowed.
We should too. I hope they can somehow grow another, third-generation tree.
The director of the Wilkes Heritage Museum, which manages the old courthouse and grounds now, was upbeat.
“We have collected some of the acorns and will try and see what we can get to grow,” museum director Jennifer Furr said.
Meanwhile, the downed tree will be cut up and stored, Furr said. “We plan to do something just as special” as with the original, she said.
And in a flash, in a puff of wind, the mighty Tory Oak was gone. What recovery can the mighty work of man bring to bear? We’ll see.
With apologies to poet Joyce Kilmer:
I think that I shall never see
Our story as lovely stated as with that tree.
We’ve lost a fine member of our family. Gone but not forgotten.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.