The Lafayette Cedar is a survivor.
Planted more than 150 years ago, it now stands alone as a sentry to history and justice in front of the Kershaw County Courthouse. It is the sole survivor of a double row of cedars planted in celebration of the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to Camden in 1825, according to “A guide to Historic Sites in Camden, South Carolina. The tree was on the property of John Carter, who welcomed Lafayette to his home. The house, which became known as “Lafayette Hall,” was destroyed by fire in 1903.
In spite of its noble roots, the tree has been in decline for years. Efforts have been made to harvest its seeds and grow a new cedar. Periodic maintenance has kept the tree alive but feeble.
Kershaw County historian Charles Baxley watched the tree’s decline. He wrote a letter to Frank Broom during his stint as acting county administrator, inquiring if there was something that could be done to save the life of this landmark.
“I asked nicely. I just happen to think the cedar is an important symbol in a lot of ways,” Baxley said.
The county sought the advice of Camden Urban Forester Liz Gilland, who agreed the tree -- an Eastern Red Cedar native to the region and a habitat and source of food for songbirds -- was suffering. She made several recommendations, among them to prune out the dead wood; remove some of the slabs of concrete surrounding the tree to expose its roots; install some shredded hardwood mulch; and deliver deep root fertilization and aeration.
Kershaw County administered the prescribed round of life-saving measures.
“I think what the county is doing is wonderful,” Baxley said. “And I think we need to put a sign there that explains what the tree means.”
No one knows what will happen, but at least something’s been done. Maybe this care will stabilize her for a few more years.