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Connecticut's Notable Trees: Historic Tree Profile, New Britain's Charter Oak "Grandson"

by Glenn Dreyer, Chairman, Connecticut Notable Trees Committee • Fall 2002 (Volume 30, no. 3)

Notable Trees, a joint project with Connecticut College Arboretum and the Connecticut Urban Forest Council, tracks the state's historic trees and its largest trees. Our State is blessed with a rich diversity of plants, animals, forests, and historic resources. We all share a concern for preserving this cultural landscape, the things which give our state its unique character. Trees are symbolic of our relationship with nature, a touchstone to the past and future. Established in 1985, the Notable Trees Project collects and distributes information about Connecticut's largest and most historic trees, both native and introduced. By educating our fellow citizens about the importance of our state's natural heritage we work to preserve it. It is a volunteer enterprise sponsored by the Connecticut Botanical Society, The Connecticut College Arboretum, and the Connecticut Urban Forest Council.

Although best known for creating Champion Tree lists and measuring big trees, the Notable Trees Committee is also very interested in our state's historic trees. The Committee considers historic trees to have a documented connection to historic persons, places or events. These are not always the largest of their kind, and some are no longer alive. The most familiar historic is the Charter Oak, a very large white oak in Hartford that died in 1856. It entered Connecticut History in 1687 when a copy of the colony's charter was hidden within its hollow trunk to avoid confiscation by British authorities. Documented offspring from this famous tree are also considered historic, and many have been utilized to commemorate special events, including group plantings for a Constitutional Convention in 1965 and the US Bicentennial in 1976 (Dreyer, 1998).

One Charter Oak descendent is growing in the Fairview Cemetery at 120 Smalley Street in New Britain. The tree was brought to my attention by Mr. Alexander Gary, of New Britain, a person with a passion for both history and trees. According to Mr. Gary, a decorative metal fence was erected years ago to protect the trunk and to hold a commemorative plaque. The tree had grown to the point that the fence was too small and causing damage. It was removed by the New Britain Public Works Department in the summer of 2000. The plaque was later placed on a slab near the tree.

The white oak tree was planted May 1st, 1933 by the five remaining Connecticut Veterans of Stanley Post #11, Grand Army of the Republic. The Civil War soldiers, aged 89 to 97, planted a grandchild of the Charter Oak in the burial plot in Fairview Cemetery that contained Civil War veteran graves. The cemetery administration building displays a photograph of the men, and a signed document detailing the event.

The origin of the tree is described as follows: "The acorns from the original Charter Oak were planted by Deacon D. N. Camp in his yard on Camp Street in 1857, and from this tree came the sapling that these old veterans are plantingÉ" Mr. Gary has searched for the Camp Street tree but reports the house is no longer present and the tree is also gone.

When I visited the tree on February 19, 2002, it was 69 years old and measured 56 feet tall, 6 feet 7 inches in circumference at 4.5 feet above ground, and had an average branch spread of 53 feet. This is small in comparison to other white oaks in our records, and not particularly big for a tree of its age. It was in fair to good condition, and would benefit from a bit of maintenance pruning and removal of a nearby pin oak. The historic oak is located in the west end of section 15 of Fairview Cemetery. Fairview, established in 1756, is operated by the City of New Britain and encompasses 100 acres. It is home to four other Notable Trees, all large but none currently of champion stature: katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum); silver linden (Tilia tomentosa); English oak (Querus robur) and white spruce (Picea glauca).

Note: The tree could be called granddaughter or other word; they are technically hermaphrodites. This tree is two generations removed from the original. - GDD

Civil War Veterans S.H. Whipple (left) G.C. Root (2nd from left) and T. Mulligan (2nd from right) planting a Charter Oak "grandson" on May 1, 1933 in Fairview Cemetery, New Britain.

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© 2002 Glenn Dreyer. All rights reserved.