U.S. Capitol tree visits Winchester

Posted: November 26, 2012

The Winchester Star

Winchester Police Cpl. Michelle Hearn and Sgt. Wayne Monse use their flashlights to get a glimpse through a plexiglass window at the Capitol Christmas Tree in a tractor-trailer parked at the Apple Blossom Mall. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — How do you get a 73-foot tall Christmas tree through city?

“Very cautiously,” according to Capt. Doug Watson of the Winchester Police Department.

The Engelmann spruce, en route to Washington from Colorado to become the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, made an overnight pit stop in Winchester on Friday, and Watson was in charge of escorting the tree and the 153-foot tractor-trailer that was carrying it.

A merry task, but not an easy one.

The evergreen, which was cut down in the White River National Forest near Meeker, Colo., made 28 scheduled stops in cities across the country before arriving Sunday at Andrews Air Force Base. The tree’s final destination, however, is the west lawn of the Capitol, where it will be decorated with 5,000 ornaments made by children from Colorado.

After a stop in Staunton, the tree arrived about 7:20 p.m. Friday in Winchester, where the National Park Service had arranged for it to spend the night in the City Yards at 301 E. Cork St., Watson said. A tall fence there offered the evergreen protection from vandals — a measure that had become necessary on the tree’s journey after it was tagged with spray paint at one stop, and the paint had to be laboriously removed.

That particular incident happened while the tree was parked in front of the home of the police chief of that town, Watson said.

The City Yards offered a less high-profile spot for the tree to spend night, but getting it there proved to be a problem for the oversized semi.

City police shut down several intersections so the truck and a second tractor-trailer carrying companion trees could navigate Pleasant Valley Road, National Avenue and Kent and Cork streets, but the big truck could not make the turn in the City Yards, even if a street sign was removed to give it more room.

“It just wasn’t going to work,” Watson said.

He told the drivers that Winchester’s streets, laid out in the early 1700s, weren’t built for the type of horsepower they were using.

So, a new plan was devised.

Apple Blossom Mall was contacted, and officials there agreed to let the trucks park in the mall parking lot, where police and mall security kept a close eye on the tree overnight.

On Saturday morning, the tree departed for a stop in Allentown, Pa., all its needles intact.

“It was an interesting experience,” Watson said. “Not too many people can say they helped the Capitol Christmas Tree get to Washington. We did our little part.”

While the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is from Colorado, the National Christmas Tree is from Warren County. Donald Murray Sr., owner of the 30-foot blue spruce, gave permission for the tree to be plucked from its Howellsville Road location and replanted on the Ellipse between the National Mall and White House. A tree-lighting ceremony for the National Christmas Tree is set for 5 p.m. Thursday.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com