RICHMOND, Va. -- Oh, Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree . . . how in the heck did you get up there?
Roughly 60 feet above the mighty James River, on a granite pier 180 years old - a perch for the birds only - sits a lonely conifer, surprisingly nicely shaped for a wild-grown volunteer likely planted by a winged assistant.
And that volunteer tree is on perhaps the grandest, most historic Christmas tree stand in the land, an early engineering marvel so magnificent, the Richmond Whig newspaper proclaimed it a “mighty Colossus . . . destined to hand down posterity to its authors . . . to stand as proud monuments to remote generations.”
Designed by legendary civil engineer Moncure Robinson, the amazing half-mile span was built in 1838 as part of the Richmond Petersburg Railway.
It was a glorious achievement at the time that railroads began spanning the globe.
Imagine soaring across the river in a passenger car pulled by a puffing and clanging steam locomotive!
“People got excited about this,” said historian Mike Gorman. “It’s going to link up Richmond and Petersburg. And that bridge, my gosh! It must’ve been an exciting thing for people of the 1850s to do.”
Gorman said the span, a major artery during the Civil War, was burned during the evacuation of Richmond in 1865.
It was rebuilt, burned again by accident, rebuilt two more times and lasted through more than half of the 1900s.
And still, many of these colossal support piers stand.
The one closest to downtown, on the edge of Brown’s Island, holds our volunteer tree.
It can be seen from both sides of the river, from many vantage points: restaurants, pubs, office buildings, condos, homes bridges.
It cries out to be lit up for the holidays, right?
The Florida Keys have a volunteer bridge tree they decorate and celebrate. (Fred the Tree has his own Facebook page.)
I had an experienced rock climber check out our massive column, but he said he’d have to tap into that historic granite to do it safely.
CSX has that high track right beside it. Maybe they could roll out there with a little cherry picker?
I know, it’s just a tree.
But it’s a fine one, and it’s on perhaps the grandest Christmas tree in the land.
What say you?