A Remarkable American sycamore

Tree Information
Common Name: American sycamore
Scientific name: Platanus occidentalis
Category: Community tree
Notes: Growing in Sugar Hollow at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Albemarle County, Virginia, is a grand old sycamore tree well-known to all travelers to the area. Called The Dancing Tree by some and The Old Man by others, this stately sycamore lifts its arms skyward, welcoming hikers, bikers and motorists to this picturesque Shangri-La. ****************** Sugar Hollow is also a very popular access point for hikers wanting to explore this southern region of Shenandoah National Park. One may access the area by turning onto Rt. 614 (Sugar Hollow Road) from Rt. 810 (Browns Gap Turnpike) in White Hall, VA. A series of three bridges along Sugar Hollow Road cross the Moormans River, one of only two designated scenic rivers in the state of Virginia. This very special tree is easily spotted mid-way between the 2nd and 3rd bridges, alongside the roadway near the rivers bank on the property of Michael (Nick) Nichols, a distinguished photographer for the National Geographic Society. Today it is common to see artists seated by the roadside sketching or painting this marvelous work of nature. ***************** Many points of local historical interest can be seen by the knowledgeable traveler passing in and out of Sugar Hollow. Across the river and only a short distance downstream from The Dancing Tree was the site of John Vias grist mill, frequented by mountain residents during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Another water-powered grist mill, Wonderleys, was also located nearby in the 2nd half of the 19th century. ******************** The quiet pace of 21st century Sugar Hollow belies its storied past. Many homes and farms once existed in this hollow which reaches high into the mountains. Quite a few businesses involved with abundant timber resources were once located here, including stave mills, saw mills, grist mills, blacksmith shops, a tannery, a distillery, and a grocery. The Hollow also was served at various times by three churches and three schoolhouses. The last of these one-room schoolhouses, built in 1901, still stands on the rivers edge below the 3rd bridge and is a private residence today. During the Civil War soldiers passed through this community whose road allowed access to three different mountain passes. ***************************** In 1924 the City of Charlottesville established a water intake not far upstream from this old sycamore. However, the establishment of Shenandoah National Park in the mid-1930s did more to define the current nature of Sugar Hollow than any of the floodwaters that ever rushed down the steep, surrounding mountainsides. All travel access over the mountain above Sugar Hollow was eliminated with the coming of the park and most of the local mountain residents soon moved away. In the mid-1960s, the Girl Scouts established a rustic camp near the 3rd bridge. That camp continues to introduce new generations of young people to the wonders and joys of this unique area. After the great flood of 1995 that destroyed the roads and bridges in Sugar Hollow, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) piled tons of earth around the base of the tree, but concerned neighbors brought pressure on VDOT to remove the earth, thus saving the great Dancing Tree for the enjoyment of future generations. ********************* Today, the fortunate few who call Sugar Hollow home are joined mostly by sport fishermen and other day-visitors who access the parks trails. All who sojourn here follow the footsteps of travelers of old as they pass beneath the out-stretched, welcoming arms of Sugar Hollows beloved sycamore tree.
Best time to photograph:
Nominator: Robert Gilges and Phil James
Location of Tree
County/City: Albemarle
Name of tree owner: Michael Nichols
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