Feature Story

Annual Tree Walk in Greenmount Cemetery

Branch Out Burlington!, formed in 1996, becoming very active in 1998 after the catastrophic ice storm that extensively damaged so many of Burlington’s trees, has held an annual tree walk for the last 16 years. This year's walk on Saturday June 11, 2016 was in Greenmount Cemetery, Burlington's oldest cemetery with burials dating back to 1773. Branch Out Burlington! was joined by the Burlington Cemetery Commission, and the walk featured both trees and gravestones. Greenmount Cemetery contains a wide variety of native, ornamental and exotic trees, and is the burial place for many of Burlington and Vermont's noted people. Organizers Nancy Knox, Board Member of Branch Out Burlington!, and Donna Waldron, Burlington Cemetery Commission Chair were joined by 60+ walkers who were treated to fascinating presentations on the life of trees and the history of Burlingtonian's in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Donna Waldron and Nancy Knox begin the Greenmount Tree Walk

Warren Spinner, whose education includes arboriculture and park management at UMass-Amherst, and who is a nationally known expert on the urban forest, has been Burlington's City Arborist for 35 years. Warren is also active in Branch Out Burlington! and joined Nancy in presenting Greenmount's trees. Among the hundreds of gravestones stands an Heritage River Birch. With its beautiful exfoliating bark, the River Birch is one of the most disease and insect resistant of the ornamental birch trees. Early settlers roasted seeds from the large seedpods of the Kentucky Coffeetree to make a coffee substitute and used its wood to make fence posts. The Norway Spruce, a majestic conifer, is also known as a "cemetery pine" for its weeping branches. This non-native evergreen has been extensively used in timber plantations and has naturalized in the Northeastern Unites States.

Warren Spinner (right under tree) discusses the 'Crimson King' Norway Maple

Devin Colman, State Architectural Historian for the Division of Historic Preservation, related a most interesting history of the Ethan Allen mounument in Greenmount. A flamboyant frontiersman, daring military leader, land speculator, philosopher, prisoner of war and one of the founders of the State of Vermont, Ethan Allen dominates early Vermont history. It is believed that Allen was buried in Greenmount nearby his relatives and this monument marks his burial site. The monument was constructed in two phases, interrupted by the Civil War. Resting on an eight foot granite base with marble tablets, the 35 foot tall Doric column was constructed in 1857 out of granite salvaged from the 1838 Vermont State House which had recently burned. In 1873, an eight foot tall Carrara marble statue of Ethan Allen was placed on top to depict a youthful Allen in a strident pose demanding the surrender of Fort Ticonderoga. The statue was designed by the Boston sculptor Peter Stephenson. The cast iron musket and cannon fence dates from 1872.

Devin Colman suggests Ethan Allen may not be buried in Ethan Allen's grave

Between the Northern White Cedar, symbolic of cemeteries since Roman times, and the Eastern Red Cedar with its sharp-pointed needles and tiny blue berries, Donna Waldon told us of George Edmunds' role in the attempt to impeach Andrew Jackson, and Clayton Trutor related the life and times of G. G. Benedict, editor of the Burlington Free Press and Civil War veteran.

Allison Curran, Burlington Cemetery Commissioner, an educator when not at the Commission, knew how to draw our attention to Sgt. George Osborne (1886-1983). A son of a free slave from Kentucky, he enlisted in the all-black 10th US Cavalry - a regiment known as the Buffalo Soldiers - stationed at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester. He fought in the Phillippines and later Mexico. Osborne worked in the American Woolen Mills in Winooski and lived with his wife Vesta in Essex after he retired from military service in 1935.

Mary Martha Fletcher's lifelong contributions to the greater Burlington community were related by Cemetery Commissioner Lainey Rappaport. Although Mary suffered ill health including tuberculosis, she and her famity were generous benefactors. Her family created the Fletcher Free Library. Mary founded the Mary Fletcher Hospital and the Mary Fletcher School of Nursing, both named in honor of her mother.

Allison on Sgt. George Osborne...
...Lainey on Mary Martha Fletcher!

Arising out of this year's annual tree walk, Branch Out Burlington! has published another in its series of self-guided tree walks. This new brochure entitled Trees & Monuments of Greenmount Cemetery can be downloaded from the Branch Out Burlington! website.

A word of thanks: Greenmount Cemetery is an absolute gem as a result of the oversight and care of Burlington's Parks and Rec Director Jesse Bridges, Assistant Cemetery Superintendent Jeff Shedd, and Cemetery Assistant Annie D'Alton . The Burlington Cemetery Commissioners were honored to show off this most important of our City treasures.

Nancy Knox ospreyvt@gmail.com
Donna Waldron waldrondl@icloud.com

Barry Trutor, Burlington Cemetery Commissioner and VOCA member
Clayton Trutor, VOCA member