Local landowners recognized as part of Century Forest program

By Michael Campbell News Editor

DINWIDDIE – The lush sea of green that people see along the highways and byways of Dinwiddie is one of the focal points of the county and something that is treasured by residents.

Last week, a trio of Dinwiddie landowners was honored by the Virginia Department of Forestry, being named as “Century Forest landowners,” becoming members of the inaugural class that honors those who have owned their forestland for 100 years or more.

The Johnson family, the Jones family and the Shell Family Farm, LLC were among 23 landowners recognized by the state as part of the program created by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Developed by the McAuliffe Administration and patroned by Sen. Frank Ruff, the Century Forest program was designed to honor and recognize those Virginians who have owned working forestlands for more than 100 years.  

“We’re very excited to be able to highlight those Virginians who have owned, managed and treasured their forestland for more than a century and hope to keep their woodlands intact, in forest and in their family for years to come,” said State Forester of Virginia Bettina Ring following the bill’s adoption earlier this year.

“We are grateful to Senator Ruff and all of his colleagues in the Senate and House for voting unanimously to approve this important legislation, and we appreciate all of the work and support of our partners, members of the Secretary’s office and the Governor for turning this dream into a reality,” Ring continued.

In order to be eligible for the Century Forest designation, the property in question must have been owned by the same family for at least 100 consecutive years, have at least 20 contiguous acres of managed forest, be lived on, or actually managed by, a descendant of the original owners and have a history of timber harvests or forest management activities.

In March, the Virginia Department of Forestry estimated that there “more than 1,000 individuals or families” eligible for this distinction.

During last week’s ceremony, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Sam Towell provided a picture of the wide range of ownership tenures by recipients of the new awards.

“The shortest tenure of ownership in the inaugural class is 105 years; the longest is 235 years,” he remarked. “That means this particular family took ownership of this land just five years after the American Colonists declared their independence from England but had yet to win that independence until the Battle of Yorktown – which took place eight months after the land was purchased.”

According to the VDF, the Johnson family’s 103.5-acre property has been in their family since 1879 when the father and son team of Phill and Dandridge Johnson, who were slaves, then freemen, purchased the property. The Johnsons have been active in forest management on the property known as Family Tree and they have a conservation easement with the Department of Forestry on the property.

Along with the forest, the Johnson family is no strangers to preservation as they have recently donated articles, including a larger-than-life photo of Phill Johnson and his wife Mariah Johnson, to the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

The second recipient of the Century Forest award went to the Shell Family Farm who have owned, managed and cared for 700 acres of forestland for the last 166 years.

Ann Turner Shell, wife then widow of Dr. John Shell, moved to the property and raised her four small children. Richard Cabell Shell was the youngest of the children and the only one to remain in Dinwiddie County.

The family home is one of the oldest in Dinwiddie County. The original portion of the home was built around 1750 by Thomas Scott and has qualified for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

The final Dinwiddie landowner honored this year was the Jones family, with Frances Arlington Owens Jones still holding approximately 42 of the original 259 acres that were purchased in 1902 by Henry C. Jones, Jr.

According to the VDF, seven years before the purchase, the H.C. Jones & Sons Lumber Company was established and remained in operation until 1942. The mill had two crews – a woods crew and a mill crew – that provided jobs for many people in the Glen Allen area of Henrico County, while the farming portion of the land provided food to dozens of families during the Great Depression.

Programs like this, one of the first in the nation, reinforces the commonwealth’s commitment to forest management and preservation, with forestry being touted as the third-largest industry in the commonwealth, contributing $17 billion a year to the state economy and employing over 100,000 Virginians.

In addition, there are 410,000 private individuals and families who own most of the 16 million acres in forestland in the commonwealth.

“These families and their ancestors built Virginia and they built America,” remarked Ring. “What a fitting recognition of their achievements this is – being part of the first group in the nation’s first Century Forest program.”

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Towell and State Forester of Virginia Ring oversaw the induction ceremony and presented each honoree with a certificate from Gov. Terry McAuliffe and a Century Forest sign that will be posted at a prominent site on their land.

Copyright 2016 by Womack Publications

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