Centuries before English settlers arrived in North America, a white oak tree took root in what is now the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church in Bernards, New Jersey. This tree would grow to have a trunk circumference of 18 feet and reach 100 feet tall. After years of showing rot, this landmark of natural history was declared dead, forcing crews to cut down the 600-year-old tree this week.
The imposing tree served as protection from the sun and as a photogenic hot spot. According to local stories, General Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette picnicked in the tree's shade, and soldiers of the Continental Army stopped to rest under the great oak while riding from the Continental Army's headquarters in Morristown. While there are no known written accounts of these visits, it is easy to imagine such a magnificent tree would catch the general's eye.
George Washington's keen interest in trees and landscape design has been witnessed by visitors to Mount Vernon for centuries. Washington oversaw the selection and maintenance of his trees, writing on March 3, 1785: "Employed myself the greatest part of the day in pruning and shaping the young plantation of trees."
The loss of this great tree in New Jersey reminds us of how few older trees remain across the country. At Mount Vernon, for example, there are only a handful of trees left from Washington's time. Our horticulture staff goes to great lengths to care for the estate's landscape, maintaining the standards of George Washington and restoring the grounds to his original design.