BASKING RIDGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A New Jersey community is trying to save a piece of the past as what is believed to be the oldest white oak tree in the country shows signs of decay.
The giant white oak tree is located on Oak Street next to the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church and Cemetery, where Revolutionary War veterans are buried. Arborists believe the tree has stood there long before the church was founded in 1717.
“The tree has been here for over 600 years,” Rev. Dennis Jones said. “It is believed to be either the oldest white oak in North America or possibly in the entire world.”
It has been recorded that George Washington had a picnic under the white oak.
“He was traveling from Morristown to the Princeton area and this was just an ideal location for him to stop,” Basking Ridge resident John Kipple said.
In 1924, the center of the tree was rotting and the method back then was to fill it with concrete cement, CBS2’s Meg Baker reported. It prospered up until about a year or two ago, and now the top of the tree has stopped growing any new life.
“As the other trees greened up and came to life with the spring it became so obvious that this tree is in even greater decline,” Jones said, adding the church has done everything it can for decades to preserve this piece of history. “It’s sad to see a symbol that means so much to people die.”
The oak marks the center of Basking Ridge on Oak Street and its depiction is used throughout town.
“We have logos all over of the oak leaf symbol,” Mayor Carol Bianchi said. “It signifies an important part of our community and our history.”
Residents don’t want to see the tree go.
“It’s such a beautiful historic symbol that really brings nature together with the history of our town it’s really sad to see that the tree is dying but it’s part of the circle of life,” said Margaret Milton who lives down the street.
Jones said arborists are now looking into several possible resolutions, including treating the soil and additional trimming.
The church said if the tree has to come down they will communicate with the community and then decide what to do with the bark and wood from the tree.
“We’re grateful for what a rich and long, beautiful life it’s had and for the inspiration it has brought to generations of worshipers and generations of visitors who have come to our church,” Jones said.
The life of a white oak is usually 300 years. With a lot of love and tender care this beloved tree has doubled its lifespan.
The mayor and pastor plan to include the community when it decides what to do with the bark and wood if the tree comes down.