Nunnally Oak grows five inches this decade

One may not think too much about a tree and its history, or its standing in the community and the events that occurred over the passages of time There is one tree, a great white oak, that stands tall in the courtyard of the Historic 1917 Courthouse in Chesterfield, which historians protect and measure its growth every 10 years. The Nunnally Oak had its measuring ceremony last Thursday, growing five inches to 17 feet and 7 inches.

Therese Wagenknecht, president of the historical society, gave the welcome and introduced Richard Nunnally.  Nunnally participated in the measuring in 2001 and said he was glad to be back to participate again.  The Nunnally Oak, approaching 200 years, was first measured in 1916 by Attorney James W. Gordon, the Hon. Robert E. Southall and John B. Lightfoot.  At that time the tree, which was planted as a sapling by Lawson Nunnally in 1814, measured 11 feet 11 inches.   It was measured again in 1924 by Gordon again and O.B. Gates.  In 1940 it measured 14 feet and 1 1 /2 inches.  In 1958 it measured 15 feet and 3 inches, by that time the sons of Gordon and Gates were measuring the tree;  Judge Ernest P. Gates and James W Gordon, Jr. , both attorneys.

Rusty Lescault, a captain with the Chesterfield County Police Department and amateur tree historian, gave a brief history of the young man who planted the white oak.  The first article he found was written in 1958 describing the oak as a magnificent tree.  “This tree is like a living artifact,” he said. “It is a living example of one young man who [must have had] envisioned  [his country] as he planted it.”

Lescault found the history on Nunnally, a son of a local reverend who had a farm adjacent to the property where the tree was planted. Nunnally became an apprentice at the courts and starting working at the age of nine.  “Why did he plant the tree,” he said.  “We were in the middle of the war, the War of 1812, there had been spring floods, drought in the summer and the British invaded Ft. McHenry.  At that time a song was written by Francis Scott Key, may he planted the tree for the same reason Frances Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangle Banner.”

For whatever reason Nunnally planted the tree, Lescault said he may have planted it because he had hope for the young nation.  “The white oak has seen nine wars, depression and yellow ribbons around its trunk,” he said.  “It has shaded us during political debates and courthouse trials and it gives us a chance to pause on how we have endured over 200 years as a county and a nation.”

When the Chesterfield Historical Society was established in 1981, they became responsible for the measuring ceremony.  Mary Arline McQuire and Judge Gates took the measurement at 16 feet and 4 ½ inches.  In 1991 the oak was 16 feet and 9 inches and in 2001 Judge Gates announced the measurement at 17 feet and 2 inches.  

Joining the measuring ceremony this year were Richard Nunnally, Michael Likins, director of the Cooperative Extension office, Judy Worthington, Clerk of the Court, Judge Ernest Pl Gates and Judge Herbert C. Gill, Jr.

After measuring the five-foot height mark, the trunks measurement was taken and announced at 17 feet and 7 inches.  “It grew five inches,” said Judge Gates.  “It had a good decade.”

The program was sponsored by the Historical Society and Bartlett’s Tree Experts.  Next measurement will be 2021.


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