By Clayta Richards
Sitting on the Wildwood Stables property, in Fairfield Glade, is an impressive sycamore that stands 94 feet tall, is 16 feet in circumference, and has a 165-foot crown spread. It is the second largest sycamore in the state of Tennessee. The Tennessee Urban Forestry Council has now added it to the Historic Tree Registry, naming it the Legendary Sycamore at Fairfield Glade's Wildwood Stables.
To achieve such a distinction, a tree must have been a direct witness to a historic event or cultural movement which was significant nationally, regionally, or within the state and confirmed to date to that time. At the urging of the current owner/operators of Wildwood Stables, John Cannon and Michelle Salazar, the Crossville Tree Board, the TWRA, and former owners of the property (Center family), the tree has been recognized.
"This is a very auspicious occasion, to say the least," said John Cannon. "None of us were here in 1864, and that's when young Hugh Center, as legend goes, planted the tree," near what was the old Walton Road. The land where the sycamore sits originally belonged to Thomas Center and stayed in the family until around 1972, when it was sold to Fairfield Glade by the husband of owner Jane Center, Paul Capps. Center family members in attendance Monday, Oct. 29, were Elizabeth Capps Davenport (who grew up on the property), and Sharon Capps Kirtley and their family friend, Billie Swearinger.
As a sapling, the tree was pulled from beside Daddy's Creek in Cumberland County. The house that once stood on the property was built around 1859, and was a well known and frequent stopping place for travelers headed west to Nashville and beyond on the old Walton Road. Several famous people traveled the road, including Duke Louis Phillippe, who was later the King of France.
Thomas Center was the first superintendent of schools in Cumberland County. A local school chapel was later built close to Center's home. In 1986, the house was nominated for the National Register of Historic Homes, but has since been lost. The original stables and several horses were lost in a fire in 1985.
Today, the sycamore is a landmark for the newer stables and is the subject of artists, photographers and tourists. Many weddings have taken place under its sheltering arms, and it is a favorite spot for classes of school children to have their picture taken when touring the stables.
Tom Simpson, with the TWRA forestry service, says Crossville Tree Board members urged him to take a look at the sycamore. "I made a trip out here — I looked up and said, 'Oh, my goodness!' And I thought, 'what's wrong with this picture? It's a sycamore. They usually grow in river bottoms.'"
It seems this tree, that stands stately and large on a knoll nowhere near a river bottom, has been able to tap into an underground stream that also supplied the well that sat next to the tree for many decades.
A plaque was presented by the Tennessee Urban Tree Council commemorating the celebration of the sycamore being placed on the Historic Tree Registry. Members of the Fairfield Glade Community Club, TWRA representatives, and county officials, as well as friends and family, were also in attendance.