Standing watch through centuries

February 25, 2007|by JULIE E. GREENE

ST. JAMES - It has survived the Civil War, 283 years and thousands of students - students who were taught to respect it.

The tulip poplar on the grounds of Saint James School south of Hagerstown is considered one of the oldest in Maryland and was declared one of the state's bicentennial trees in 1976, said Ted Camp, chairman of the school's history department and the school's archivist.

The tree stands - with wires supporting some major branches - within Center Circle, a circular section of grass surrounded by a driveway. The driveway is called Senior Circle, Camp said.

No one - except the grounds crew that tends to the lawn and tree, is to step foot on the grass until graduation day. Students can even earn two demerits for walking on the grass because school officials want the grass to look its best for graduation, Camp said.


Camp said an alumnus told him students used to be able to work off demerits by making rounds or walking along Senior Circle a certain number of times.

Students who wish to retrieve a stray soccer or lacrosse ball from Center Circle are supposed to ask permission, Camp said.

The tree is so revered that even some dead wood has earned honorable posts.

Fallen branches were used to make a gavel that the school headmaster uses to call board of trustees meetings to order and to make a mace that a senior marshal carries when leading processions in Chapel, Camp said.

Even a monthly newsletter for parents, friends and alumni is named for the tree, The Poplar.

The towering tulip poplar at Saint James School gives shade to the crowd during graduation on June 4, 2006.

Afternoon light illuminates the tulip poplar on March 15, 2006 at Center Circle on the grounds of Saint James School. Clagett Hall, used for administration and dormitories, is at the top of the circle. When the tree was evaluated by state forestry officials in January 2006, it stood 135 feet tall and 8 feet wide.

The tulip poplar dominates Center Circle at the school with the chapel in the background on Oct. 18, 2006.

The tree is silhouetted against the twilit sky on Feb. 3, 2007.

The enormous tree's trunk, which is about 8 feet in diameter, stands in stark contrast to a group of Saint JamesSchool students walking after class. A tradition at the privateschool disallows students from walking across Center Circle, where the tulip poplar stands.

Grounding cable protects the tree from lightning.

A leaf lies near Saint James School's tulip poplar on Oct. 14, 2006. Tulip poplars get their names from their tulip-shaped leaves as the leaf's four lobes are notched into a rough tulip shape.

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