“Well before Columbus sailed to the New World and even before Gutenberg invented the printing press, there grew a great oak tree in a land that would one day be called New Jersey. The oak
was already old when farmers built a church beside it in 1717. And when the people came and kept coming, a town called Basking Ridge was built around the church that was built beside the tree. Town and tree would always be inseparable, or so the people thought.”
History of the Basking Ridge Oak Tree
In 1398, the Great White Oak, species name Quercus alba, - a natural wonder and perhaps one of the largest trees in North America - took root in what would eventually become Basking Ridge, N.J. It would later grow large enough to provide shelter to church congregations, protect the burial ground of war veterans, offer shade to children at play and serve as the centerpiece for annual Christmas town gatherings, Charter Days and Memorial Day Parades- and that was all in the second half of it's life!
A well-known local landmark, the white oak, sometimes referred to as the “Holy Oak,” resided on the property of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church in the town center of Basking Ridge and is rumored to have quite a historic past. From legendary lunchtime visits by famed military to nostalgic and life-changing sermons, the tree has been privy to witnessing momentous moments in American history.
Matteson, S. (2003) 'Central Jersey trees among nation's oldest', Courier News, 24, November, p. A-6.
1717, Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church
1760, Basking Ridge receives it's charter
In the early 1700’s the tree served as the background for the First Great Awakening revival in which legendary evangelist George Whitfield and clergyman James Davenport preached to a crowd of 3,000.
During the Revolutionary War, its thought that General George Washington picnicked under the tree with the military officer and French aristocrat known simply as Marquis de Lafayette, who at times, assisted the Continental Army under Washington’s command. And during that same war, our tree, considered one of the oldest in America, looked on as 5,500 troops made their way to the bloody, yet victorious for the Continental Army, battle at Yorktown, Virginia. An interesting fact to note, after the tree was removed in 2017, a bullet was found by craftsmen at Pollaro Custom Furniture lodged within and is presumed to have been from the Revolutionary War period!
In addition to the 35 Revolutionary war veterans that are buried in the church yard, local lore is that Betsy Ross, the seamstress of the original United States flag commissioned by General George Washington in 1776, was buried under the great oak.
Kennedy, J. (1995). Images of America, Around and about Basking Ridge, Liberty Corner, and Lyons. Arcadia Publishing Dover, NH:Arcadia Publishing.
Throughout the years, as the tree continued to grow, it’s weight and girth became a challenge that tree surgeons tended to by adding metal cables and concrete to add stability and extend the tree’s life. In 1924 a significant amount of concrete and steel rods were added to prolong the life of the tree and care for the tree became a part of the annual budget for the church. These elements created unique features in some of the wood pieces we preserved from the tree which are dark stains, almost black in some cases, that provide a striking contrast to the natural color of the white oak.
After years of vitality, the tree began to show signs of deterioration and in 2016, decided to rest. A year later, on April 24, 2017, a highly-skilled team led by Keith Keiling, local tree care and removal expert and David Schneck, local harvest logger, carefully removed the tree and moved it into storage to dry. Now, it’s ready to once again be enjoyed by the masses, but in the comfort of your own home rather than the center of town through the efforts and craftmanship of Forged in Wood.