The majestic Live Oak was dedicated as the South Carolina 2019 Heritage Tree of the Year Wednesday on the grounds of the Bennettsville Visitor Center with a bronze plaque.
The annual Arbor Day Celebration was also held.
Lois Edwards, an urban forester from Conway associated with the South Carolina Forestry Commission, said 2019 has been a big year for the city with its Bicentennial celebration.
“I can’t think of a better way to end 2019 Bicentennial year than with a tree presentation,” said Edwards, who is also a board member of Trees SC.
She added trees have been important to the history of the city for a long time.
Danny Jones of Tree SC said the trees are selected through a nomination process. All trees must be located on public property that is accessible to the public at no charge within the state.
The selection process is based on the tree’s significance (either historical, cultural or social to the community), demonstrated community value/appreciation of the tree, and the maintenance of the tree.
In 2004, Trees SC created the Heritage Tree Award Program, sponsored by Bartlett Tree Experts.
It identifies, celebrates and recognizes trees throughout the state that have a historical or cultural significance as well as those trees that play an important role in our local communities.
Edwards said past Heritage Award winners include Angel Oak in Charleston, the Aiken’s Oak Allee, the Wade Hampton Oak in Conway, the Horse Shoe at the University of South Carolina, the Deerhead Oak in McClellanville, the White Oak in the town of Irmo, the Clemson University Centennial Bur Oak, the Southern Magnolia at Winthrop University, Trinity Oaks, the Eastern Allee of Magnolias at Redcliffe Plantation, the Ittiwan Oak, the American Elm in Greenville, Rose Hill’s Southern Magnolias and the General Greene at Congaree National Park.
Trees SC promotes the winners and encourages tourism to visit the locations with Heritage Award winners.
“You can go see these Heritage trees,” Edwards said. “They all have a cultural significance and are a very important part of the state’s history.”
Edwards said the tree is estimated to be 200 years old and has great historical significance to the local community.
She talked about its position along ‘the great road leading from Society Hill to Fayetteville, N.C.’ and adjacent to the corner of Cheraw Street and West Main Street.
The tree would have been witness to numerous historical events including the founding of the city of Bennettsville on Dec. 14, 1819; the occupation of the Union Army by General William T. Sherman’s troop on March 7, 1865, and the laying of the cornerstone for the present Marlboro County Courthouse on March 27, 1884.
“This Heritage Tree has been through that long history of Bennettsville,” she said.
Elisabeth McNiel, director of Tourism, Parks, and Recreation for the city of Bennettsville, said: “the Bicentennial Live Oak and this plaque will be reminders long after this year of celebration.”
Brittany Jones, assistant director of Tourism, Parks, and Recreation, talked about the purpose of the City of Bennettsville’s annual Arbor Day Celebration.
“Bennettsville was named a Tree City USA municipality in 2011 by having adopted four standards set forth by the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters,” Jones said.
The four standards are to establish a tree committee (which also serves as our city’s Board of Architectural Review); having a tree care ordinance; having a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita; and having an Arbor Day Observance and Proclamation.
Jones said Bennettsville continues to maintain its active status by following the stated guidelines each year.
Mayor Heath Harpe read and signed the 2019 Arbor Day Proclamation. Arbor Day is observed on the first Friday in December in South Carolina.
Harpe recognized Ann Bunch, a member of the tree committee; City Administrator Max Alderman; and City Council members Jean Quick and Tyron Abraham.
“It is a special day in the life of our beloved city,” McNiel said.
After the dedication, refreshments were served inside the Bennettsville Visitor Center.
McNiel said she and Jones anticipate fully moving into the Visitors Center by the end of this month and being regularly open for visitors and locals alike.
Other activities taking place in December in celebration of the City’s Bicentennial include The Columbia City Ballet along with nine local dancers performing the Nutcracker at the Marlboro Civic Center at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7.
The Bennettsville Bicentennial Christmas Parade will begin at 4 p.m. Dec. 14 in front of city hall. A special Bicentennial “Grand Finale” fireworks show will be presented from Carroll Field and viewed over the courthouse beginning at 6:30 p.m.