King Cemetery history relived as tree scheduled for removal

Wednesday, October 30, 2019
A 200-year-old red oak tree on the grounds of King Cemetery in Washburn is scheduled to be removed. The cemetery formed in the 1840s, and the tree is the last of the forest that was once there. Jordan Privett/

200-year-old red oak tree on grounds is dying, must be taken down

When people think of death, the thought of the cemetery that loved ones are buried in may come to mind.

However, the words cemetery and death recently became intertwined with another word — tree.

For more than two centuries, a large red oak tree has stood over the grounds of King Cemetery. As one of the oldest cemeteries in Barry County, King Cemetery rests high on a hill three miles northwest of Seligman.

King Cemetery was formed in the 1840s with land donated by Alfred King, who’s gravestone bears the dates 1822-1885. The land the cemetery sits on was once a heavily wooded area, and the 200-year-old red oak tree is one of the last members of the original forest.

In a story that was handed down through the years, it is said that the first burial was a dozen or so years before the Civil War, and it was the teenage son of Alfred S. Harbin. The decision to bury their son there came from the boy’s mother who repeatedly said, “We have to put our boy in the woods.”

An expansion came for the cemetery on the north side with property donated by the Roller family. Andrew and Margaret Roller were buried in the cemetery only seven years apart. Their son P.E. “Pad” Roller, maintained the cemetery as president of the association until his death in 1918.

Over the last 100 years, the cemetery has been cared for by many different people and local families, who have had places on the board.

According to documents provided by the current board members, including Windell Bishop, president of the association; Carolyn Richardson, secretary and treasurer; and Luther McMath, board member, in 1969, the cemetery was reorganized with a set of bylaws.

Other current members include Bill Rose, James Pippin, Louise Hendrix, Ronnie Anderson and Paul Stills.

Colman Pippin had a heavy hand in the process as he traveled through the community gathering donations and signatures to help maintain the cemetery.

The King Cemetery sign was then erected at no charge, and in 1979, Bishop donated another one acre to the east side.

In 2004, the cemetery received a large donation from Dr. Mary Northcutt Newman, who has family buried in the cemetery.

“The land was all woods,” Bishop said. “This red oak is the only one left from them.”

In the past, during the annual Memorial Day community meeting, people would gather and rest under the tree for shade.

“After the tree is cut down, we can count the rings to get an exact age,” he said. “About eight years ago, we came in and removed some limbs from the tree, and there was some more maintenance about four years ago.”

The tree seems to simply be deteriorating due to its age.

“We take pride in our well-kept cemetery,” Richardson said.

“And [we take pride in] the view and peacefulness of it,” Bishop said.

The decision was made by the board for a logger who will provide his own equipment to remove the tree.

“There are stones directly beneath the tree,” Richardson said. “We will have to be very careful to avoid damaging any of them.”

The process will be fairly expensive, but worth it to preserve those headstones, according to the board members.

“The community agrees that it needs to be removed,” Richardson said.

“The history, cemetery and tree have been here long before any of us,” McMath said. “The key was finding the right guy to remove it. It could damage a lot of headstones.”

The cemetery bears many of the same names on the headstones as many families were laid to rest there together.

“There are still plots available,” Bishop said. “Most [of them are] on the west side.”

The most repeating family name on the headstones is Henry.

“There are a lot of generations here,” Bishop said. “They have been here a long time.”

According to board members, King Cemetery is one of the oldest in the community that is still being used.

“It is a peaceful resting place,” Richardson said.

The red oak tree is 17 feet in circumference, approximately 7.5 feet in diameter and a soaring over 100 feet tall.

The most interesting part about the dying tree is that only half of it is actually dying.

“Half of the tree is green and full of life,” Bishop said. “On the east side however, the limbs are bare, grey and broken. They die a piece at a time, and that is how we will take it down, one piece at a time.”

After 200 years of serving as a shade tree, a meeting place and a reminder of the lush woods that used to fill the area that is now known as King Cemetery, the red oak will find its final resting place on the same hill that laid to rest many members of the community.

For more information or to donate to King Cemetery people may call Bishop at 417-846-5355.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: