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Gratitude for a Grand Old Tree

Remembering the McGuffey ash

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library

All across UVA’s landscape, the past lingers: in the curve of a column, the arch of a window frame, the towering leafiness of a sycamore.

When the years take their toll, hard work can restore a historic building, yet such loving attention can only do so much for the majestic trees we admire all across Grounds. (See “Living Legends: The Trees of Grounds”)

One such landmark for more than 160 years was a towering ash, planted in 1826, that dominated the garden of Pavilion IX. Later named in honor of William McGuffey, who joined UVA as chair of moral philosophy in 1845, the McGuffey ash welcomed everyone to shelter under its impressive canopy.

But old age caught up with the ash. It was removed in 1990, yet not before cuttings were made that were later grafted onto ash rootstock. One of the saplings was then planted in the same spot and flourishes in the pavilion garden today.

Wood from the ash’s massive trunk and limbs was saved, used to create a “stunning” library table, according to Jim Murray, professor emeritus of biology and former chair of the Arboretum and Landscape Committee. Additional wood was also used to create picture frames.

And so, indeed, the past still lingers: in the life of a new ash tree, bringing shade to those who stroll in the garden, and in the fine grain of an ancient friend.