The town celebrated Arbor Day and paid tribute to former mayor Marshall John “Mark” Brown on Friday morning by planting a dogwood tree on Main Street near the post office.

The tree was dedicated to Brown, who died Feb. 11 at age 73 from COVID-19. He served as Middletown’s mayor from 2009-2012.

Stephens City-based Boyer Landscaping donated the tree. Middletown Mayor Charles Harbaugh IV said the town wanted to do something to honor Brown and that the dogwood holds special significance as it is Virginia’s state tree. He said the tree is 8 years old and that its roots will grow downward and won’t harm the sidewalk.

Arbor Day is observed in countries around the world on various dates, with people encouraged to plant trees. The occasion was started in the United States in 1872 in Nebraska by newspaper editor Julius Sterling Morton. Virginia celebrates Arbor Day on the last Friday in April.

“Arbor Day is a great day that represents hope for the future,” Harbaugh said. “We hope that this tree will grow to be as beautiful as the other ones that we have on Main Street. And I want to make a commitment that every Arbor Day I’m mayor, we plant a tree on Main Street.”

June Brown, Mark Brown’s widow, said the tree is “gorgeous” and said she is thankful the town dedicated it to her late husband.

“Mark had actually chopped down a lilac tree that was sort of dying off in our yard,” June Brown said. “His plan this year was to put a new tree in. I sort of feel this is a bit of a coincidence that they put a tree in for him.”

Mark Brown’s sister Kathleen McBride also said she appreciated the tribute.

“I think it’s wonderful that a tree is being planted in his honor,” McBride said. “Every time I come up to Middletown, I’ll say, ‘That’s Johnny’s tree.’”

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com