Missing grove plaque inspires Arbor Day event

On May 7, 1932, members of the 4th District of the Minnesota Federation of Women’s Clubs, unveil a memorial plaque, dedicating an elm tree grove in Keller Park to George Washington in honor of the bicentennial of his birthday. The children were direct descendants of Augustine Washington, George Washington’s half-brother. (courtesy Minnesota Historical Society)
On May 7, 1932, members of the 4th District of the Minnesota Federation of Women’s Clubs, unveil a memorial plaque, dedicating an elm tree grove in Keller Park to George Washington in honor of the bicentennial of his birthday. The children were direct descendants of Augustine Washington, George Washington’s half-brother. (courtesy Minnesota Historical Society)
The recently recovered George Washington memorial grove plaque is currently being stored outside the Maplewood Public Works facility. On May 16, city staff will haul it back to its home site for a brief rededication ceremony. (submitted photo)
The recently recovered George Washington memorial grove plaque is currently being stored outside the Maplewood Public Works facility. On May 16, city staff will haul it back to its home site for a brief rededication ceremony. (submitted photo)

When he was a student in college, Maplewood City Council member Bob Cardinal spent time running and biking around Lake Phalen. Among the notable landmarks along the course, he says, was a boulder with a plaque marking a memorial grove.

As road construction began, he noticed the rock had been displaced. But staying plenty busy over the years with a family of six children, along with a career as a business agent and time on the city council and serving as mayor, he let the case of the missing memorial rock lie.

The fate of the historic relic, however, drew him back to the site nearly 33 years later.

“It kept weighing on me,” he says.

So this past summer, he convinced two of his boys to join him on his memorial hunt and, to everyone’s surprise, they located the plaque face-down in the dirt.

They notified the city so they could retrieve the rock. The elm grove it once marked, though, no longer appeared to exist.

The history behind the long-forgotten George Washington memorial grove captured the curiosity of city staff and members of the Maplewood Area Historical Society, who have planned a mystery-themed Arbor Day event at Keller Regional Park on May 16.

“We’re excited about the event. We hope it will appeal to tree lovers, history buffs and families,” says Ginny Gaynor, the city’s natural resources coordinator.

Unlocking the mystery

Gaynor says the city recently recruited the assistance of an expert from the University of Minnesota to core some trees at the site. Based upon the number of growth rings found in the samples, they were able to determine whether any could have belonged to the grove planted back in 1931.

City staff will present the findings to those who attend the Arbor Day event. They’ve also crafted a series of stations along the short path from the Golfview Picnic Shelter to the location of the long-gone grove that will clue participants in to who or what may have led to the destruction of much of the grove.

“There will be four suspects that they’ll become familiar with,” Gaynor says. “As they’re learning about these suspects, they’ll be learning how to take care of trees.”

At 11:30 p.m., after everyone has had an opportunity to explore the mystery, event planners will hold a brief rededication ceremony of the memorial rock and plaque. In honor of the holiday, they’ll also plant a special elm tree at the site.

Traditionally, Arbor Day is celebrated the last Friday in April. Given the variety of climates across the nation, each state and community observes the holiday on a date that best coincides with local planting times.

In Maplewood, the City Council approved a resolution proclaiming May 16, 2015 as Arbor Day, with the event to take place on that day.

In accordance with the city’s sustainability initiatives, this proclamation encourages residents to value, plant and care for trees in the community. This also aligns with the criteria of being designated a Tree City USA — a status the city has held since 2011.

Early seeds of reforestation

Thick, towering oak trees and maple trees are often preserved for their historical value. According to Bob Jensen, president of the Maplewood Area Historical Society, however, the historical significance of the old elm grove near Frost Avenue, where the bridge crosses over Keller Creek, runs much deeper.

In May 1927, the 4th District of the Minnesota Federation of Women’s Clubs asked Ramsey County for permission to establish a municipal forest on 13.5 acres in Keller Park, in the name of conservation and reforestation. With the help of local Boy Scouts, five groves were established, including the grove of 10 American elm trees on the slope across from the Frost Avenue Bridge on Keller Creek.

“This group was really interested in reforestation,” Jensen says. “By the 1940s, Minnesota had been logged over. The club felt that land was left unproductive without trees, so they were advocating reforestation.”

In commemoration of the bicentennial of George Washington’s birthday, the group dedicated the grove to the late president, unveiling the boulder with an engraved brass plaque. As depicted in an archived photo of the event, descendants of relatives of George Washington and of those who served in his army were in attendance.

Today, little evidence of the work these women did remains — which is why the revival of the Washington Memorial Grove plaque holds such local historical significance. Jensen says the plaque is a reminder of the stewardship area women took on before they even had the right to vote.

Gaynor hopes participants will find a similar sense of meaning in this year’s Arbor Day event.

“The groves are missing and it’s a real lesson in the need to care for our trees,” she says. “It also spikes the imagination to think about the Boy Scouts and the women’s club planting all these trees years ago. It’s a wonderful legacy from those times.”

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews


If you go:

Maplewood’s “Arbor Day History Mystery” event will be held on Saturday, May 16, from 11 a.m. to noon. It is free and open to the public.

The walking tour starts at the Golfview Picnic Shelter at Keller Regional Park on Hwy. 61, about a half mile north of Frost Avenue. At 11:30 p.m., there will be a brief rededication ceremony of the George Washington memorial grove plaque.

Participants are invited to stay after the ceremony to learn how to plant disease-resistant elm, ask naturalists their tree-related questions and visit with members of the Maplewood Area Historical Society.

For a map and more information, visit www.ci.maplewood.mn.us/treemystery or call 651-249-2170.

 

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