Julian family Christmas tree’s journey to NY

Published 8:53 am Monday, December 24, 2018

A family outdoor Christmas tree that has been a Roan Mountain tradition for decades found a new home this year, thrilling thousands of visitors in Brooklyn, NY, but leaving local residents feeling a little blue to see it go.

The Durward Julian family tree was just that. It had been the family’s live Christmas tree, which was later planted in the yard. After that, Julian decorated it “first thing every year with those big old colored lights,” according to his daughter, Vista Clark.

The tree was one of many gifts Julian offered up to his community. Julian, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 100, was a lifelong advocate for Roan Mountain. He and his wife, Audrey, worked tirelessly for many years in the Roan Mountain Citizens Club, promoting the scenic mountain and the Rhododendron Festival which takes place there each summer.

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This year, the tree he planted and decorated annually, came down. Taken by truck to Brooklyn, NY, it became that community’s Christmas tree, much to the delight of the thousands who attended its lighting.

The tree, a 65-foot Fraser fir, with a bottom layer of limbs reaching 36 feet in diameter, stood on the family’s home place at 300 Highway 143, now owned by Julian’s son, Larry Julian.

Planted in the early 1950’s, it had become a Christmas landmark in the Roan Mountain community, with many people stopping to take holiday photos of it and with it.        

“I’ve had so many people call and ask about the tree,” Clark said. “One woman said she cried all the way to work when she saw it being taken down.”

For years, the family had refused offers from Sugar Mountain Nursery. “We knew they had buyers in New York, Washington D.C. and elsewhere, but we weren’t interested in letting go of our Daddy’s tree,” Clark said.

However, in the last couple of years, the roots had buckled in the front lawn and had grown into the neighbor’s driveway.

Larry Julian, Clark’s brother, purchased the family home place from his father, and while he and his family still loved the tree, they had become concerned about its size, and what might happen during bad storms, particularly in the winter. There was concern it could topple onto the house.

“We resisted selling it for a long time,” Clark said. “Finally the time came that we said ‘yes’.”

Removing the tree was an all-day process, said Larry Julian. “They came in with a crane and had to go into our neighbor’s driveway to avoid power lines,” he said. “Then they had to unhook our neighbor’s power lines, so they were without power all day. The tree came down in about an hour, but wrapping it was a long tedious process.”

Once the tree was on its way, Clark and her family found information about the truck driver so they could track the tree’s location and delivery. They also wanted photos of the ceremony.

“As it turned out, Luke Pittman and his wife, the owners of Pittman Trucking company, are Carter Countians,” Clark said. “They had an interest in our tree themselves.”

The Pittmans kept the family updated on the tree’s journey, providing pictures of the tree’s transport and arrival in Brooklyn.

The family didn’t travel to New York to see the tree lit, but they were able to watch via a live feed, thanks to some help from the Brooklyn Music School whose students were providing the music for the tree lighting ceremony. And they received even more photos, sent by Larry Julian’s granddaughter, Laurel Robinson, who was visiting Brooklyn.

Although it was hard to see it go, Clark says she knows in her heart it was the right thing to do. “We know our parents would be pleased to have the tree represent Roan Mountain,…and be where it could be enjoyed by thousands of people — primarily children,” Clark said.

“It was hard to see it go,” said Larry Julian. “But we are planning to plant another tree soon. We want to put something back that can be enjoyed by our grandkids and Roan Mountain families for years to come.”