Disease threatens cemetery

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

WALNUT GROVE Cemetery, Martins Ferry's oldest landmark, is a survivor to some degree despite the major cyclone in 1887 which destroyed much of the grove.

Now, there is a possibility of another menace, because the thousand cankers disease has struck Ohio.

It's a deadly walnut tree disease, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture has imposed a quarantine in an effort to keep it from spreading. The quarantine, which was put in effect Thursday, prohibits moving live walnut trees, lumber and wood from Butler County, north of Cincinnati.

The Associated Press reports that the agriculture department "first confirmed the presence of thousand cankers disease in Butler County walnut trees in August. That came after the discovery of the insects known to carry the fungus, walnut twig beetles, in late 2012 and again in June.

"State forestry officials estimate the value of black walnut at about $1.2 billion. That ranks the state No. 3 in the nation for overall black walnut inventory."

The disease first surfaced in 2003 in Colorado, and it has resulted in the widespread death of black walnut trees in many western states during the last 10 years.

A website about the disease notes it is "caused by a fungus, Geosmithia morbida, that is vectored into the tree by the walnut twig beetle (Pityophthorous juglandis)."

That beetle in addition to being destructive is an awfully ugly insect.

"A Town of Grandeur: Essays on the History of Martins Ferry, Ohio." written by Annie C. Tanks, now deceased, tells about the early major problem in Walnut Grove.

The book notes how the cyclone tore out the walnut trees.

"The ground cleared so rudely was sold off or abandoned to grow up with lesser trees and brush, leaving only the cemetery and its crumbling stones to mark Walnut Grove," Tanks reported.

Some walnut trees still remain in the old cemetery, and walnuts abound on the ground during the fall.

Martins Ferry wasn't the only Eastern Ohio community suffering damages from the 1887 cyclone.

An April 16, 1887 news story, available on the California Digital Newspaper Collection on Internet, reports: "When the whirlwind struck St. Clairsville yesterday it was split in two, and the two ascending and whirling columns united in a great mass of black clouds in the heavens. ... No adequate idea can be conveyed in words of the scene of rain and destruction. The streets are strewn with wreckage, and in some places the roads are impassable from broken trees, prostrated telegraph poles and wires and fences. ... Telegraph communication has been cut off, and great anxiety prevailed."

St. Clairsville Mayor Davis appealed for financial help because of the destruction at that time.

The 1887 news report goes on to note that the distress caused by the cyclone in Martins Ferry was even greater than that experienced in St. Clairsville, and the losers in most cases were the poor working people. "Nearly fifty families have no shelter except what is afforded by the skating rink, which has been placed at their disposal."

When the walnut grove was intact in Martins Ferry, it was used for picnics, and the Methodists conducted the first camp meeting there in 1821.

Other camp meetings followed, and Tanks wrote that best remembered of the yearly gatherings was "Drummond's Camp Meeting," held in 1832 by the Rev. Thomas Drummond and several other circuit rider ministers.

She added, "People from surrounding communities flocked in, some arriving in oxcarts, some in wagons, some riding, and many walking."

Although the grove of walnut trees was decimated, some walnut trees (as noted previously) still remain in the cemetery.

Trees in the United States are vulnerable to many diseases and problems. For instance, the American chestnut tree was devastated by chestnut blight, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture has been battling the emerald ash borer since it was discovered in Ohio in 2003.

People can't stop the wayward winds from damaging Walnut Grove Cemetery in the future, but it is hoped that the quarantine will keep the thousand cankers disease from spreading there and elsewhere.

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