Local Couple Offers Keepsakes from Handley High Trees

For the past fifty years, Handley High School’s border with Route 11 was protected by a royal guard of Russian descent. But earlier this summer the members of that same royal guard, which had stood loyally at attention both night and day and through snow and rain for five decades, were summarily executed.

Siberian Elms stumps - Photo Edward Leonard

The death of the soldiers wasn’t over some international spying incident steeped in international intrigue but rather an offence much less sinister. The guard’s soldier-straight formation was damaging a nearby sidewalk and the local government, it seems, could no longer abide such malicious and destructive behavior. So earlier this year, the City if Winchester, Virginia ordered that the thirty Siberian Elm trees lining the sidewalk in front of Handley High School be cut down over the pleas of local citizens.

Today, the only thing that remains of the trees are their 30-inch stumps and perhaps a few memories in the minds of the millions of drivers who drove past Handley High School over the years and probably took for granted the majestic tree-lined boulevard.

Fortunately, a local couple’s quick thinking may mean that a portion of the wood from the trees can be “turned” into more than just a memory.

Don and Harriet Maloney have been using lathes to turn wood into art for decades. So when the couple was driving through Winchester one day earlier this summer and saw a tree removal service preparing to topple the large trees, two thoughts immediately when through their minds.

“My first thought was how terrible it was to be cutting down these beautiful trees” said Harriet. “I also thought that it would be wonderful if I could get a little of the wood and turn keepsakes out of it for people who remembered these trees.”

Don Maloney, who has an expert’s eye when it comes to identifying tree trunk deformities known as “burls”, also noticed that some of the Siberian Elms- which were sentenced for burial in a local landfill – were covered with burl.

Don and Harriet Maloney demonstrated wood turning on Main Street for the Fire House Gallery's Art of Making Art artist demonstrations program - Photo Edward Leonard

Burl is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. It is commonly found in the form of a rounded outgrowth on a tree trunk or branch that is filled with small knots from dormant buds. In the hands of an experienced wood turner like Don Maloney, burls can be transformed into exquisitely striated bowls with fluid grain patterns.

“I stopped and talked with the tree removal guys and they were quite helpful” Maloney said. “I showed them what I needed and they cut off several large burls and put them in the back of my vehicle. I asked them when they would be cutting down a big tree covered with burl. They said it would be the next morning.”

Stump of a 50-year-old Siberian Elm in Winchester, Virginia - Photo Edward Leonard

Maloney was back with his truck and trailer early the next morning and was able to take a few sections of the now timbered trees for the keepsake project that he and Harriet hastily devised after contemplating the loss of the Handley High elms.

Don Maloney, whose Raven Rocks Road woodworking shop is filled with burls and other woods from around the wood, has several large lathes that he uses to turn the wood into beautiful bowls, urns and other objects. Don says that his interest in wood turning began as a hobby after retirement but later accidently turned into an architectural wood turning profession.

“My hobby generated excellent money and lead to a 15 year business” Don said. “I later sold the business and returned to hobby artistic wood turning which became a 20-year in this pursuit.”

Harriet Maloney, also a gifted artist and wood turner, often uses a smaller lathe that can produce finer objects like wooded pen barrels, wine bottle stoppers and Christmas tree ornaments. Together the couple sells their wood lathe creations at the Round Hill Arts Center located at Hill High Orchard just west of Round Hill, Virginia on Route 7.

Both Harriet and Don say that the wood from the Siberian Elms has a beautiful quality.

“The wood is a red-ish chocolate color with much variation in the burls” says Don. “The wood has turned very well while it is wet and has many occlusions that must come out leaving holes.

Because only a small amount of wood was obtained, the Maloney’s, whose lathes can turn objects that are up to several feet in diameter, have had to limit the size of their keepsakes to more modest proportions.

“We’re planning on turning wine bottle stoppers, nut bowls, popcorn bowls” said Don Maloney.

However, all good things take time. Because the elm trees were cut only a few months ago, the Maloney’s must process the wood in two steps, once when it is wet and again after it has dried.

“Wet wood has to be turned to its approximate final shape and then allowed to dry slowly after being coated with a water base  wax emulsion that keeps the wood from cracking” says Don. “You then need to wait for at least eight months before it can be turned again to its final shape. It could be almost a year before the objects are ready to be offered.”

Harriet Maloney displays wood turning work in her art gallery - Photo Edward Leonard

Maloney said that persons interested in obtaining a keepsake from the Handley Siberian Elms should contact him through the Round Hill Arts Center at info@roundhillartscenter.org  or by calling 540-338-5022.

Siberian Elm stumps line Route 11 in WInchester, Virginia - Photo Edward Leonard


  1. Nice article, but you’re way off with your nostalgic words, Ed. Those stumps were ground up weeks ago and have been replaced by new sidewalks and curbs. Other than that, I applaud Don’s efforts.

  2. Richie Blick says:

    It really makes me ill to drive by right now. Picturesque/Storybook Americana at its best was lost. All in the name of formed concrete. A new sidewalk that could have been raised over roots or moved over a foot. Why do sidewalks have to be straight? Can’t walkways weave in and out of trees? Trees that do the environment good by filtering air above a street, provide shade over hot pavement and from old and beautiful houses, wind breaks, recreation for kids, a haven for the birds and wildlife, all that is gone. I agree with the drama in the article. Valley lost something unique and special when they butchered the trees down. Although not as bare as I imagined. The new sidewalk looks very…. common. Wasn’t there more pressing things to do/repair/upgrade with all that money that was spent there? O’Conner’s last imprint on his short stint in Winchester and it is a biggie. It will take 50 years to recover the beauty lost this summer. But if the residents wanted their trees they could have fought more over keeping them or gotten a court involved.

    • Give it a rest. The trees were at or nearing the end of their lives, the Tree Commission included arborists (read: tree experts) on it, and nothing was made in haste. Did you SEE the root system that was there? Cutting in a sidewalk around those massive roots would have damaged them even more.

      What will be planted will have some height to it, and will – in the long run – grow to be quite lovely. The sidewalk follows the road. And…with improved sidewalks and new plantings, will not home values near there increase (something I’d think a realtor would think about)?