Local businessman: Historic tree at risk

Johnny Woodard Staff writer

September 12, 2013

LAURINBURG — A local man is fighting to preserve a historic Laurinburg tree that is threatened by the sidewalk which surrounds it.

A genetic relative of the historic “Davie Poplar” located on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the tree — actually a species of magnolia — was planted in 1993 adjacent to the A.B. Gibson Education Center in downtown Laurinburg.

“We had a big gathering down here with the descendants of UNC’s first student, Hinton James, and local school children to celebrate the tree’s planting,” said Jim Willis, chairman of the Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation.

James, who is said to have walked to Chapel Hill from Wilmington in 1795, is the great, great, great grandfather of Willis’ wife, Frances James Willis.

It was the decision to plant the tree so near the surrounding sidewalk and curb that now has Willis scrambling to find the $5,000 he estimates it will cost to remove that concrete and save the tree.

“The roots don’t have any room to grow,” Willis said. “And if you look, you can see that limbs are dying.

“I don’t think it has very long.”

The Laurinburg tree was sourced from a sapling of the “Davie Poplar,” a tree located on the campus of UNC and named in honor of the university’s founder, William Richardson Davie.

Based on popular legend, Davie chose to locate the school near the tree after enjoying a meal in its shade in 1792. The legend links the fate of the university to the tree’s health.

While that story has been debunked, the university has gone to great lengths to maintain the tree.

In addition to creating genetic clones of the Davie Poplar, the university has also filled its trunk with cement and used cables to stabilize it.

In 1993 the school sent saplings to each of the state’s 100 counties for planting by local school children and James’ descendants. The tree is planted near the line between the city and the county.

Those interested in supporting the effort to save the Laurinburg tree should call Willis at 276-2924.