The oldest white oak tree in the United States will get new life when master furniture maker Frank Pollaro turns some of the tree’s massive trunk into a limited series of custom tables, including one with a Revolutionary War musket ball embedded in it.
Known as the Basking Ridge Oak, the tree was approximately 600 years old when it died of natural causes in 2016 in a churchyard in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. That was the last year it pushed out leaves on its enormous canopy, which spanned 150 feet in diameter. At its base, the tree measured almost 27 feet in circumference. The normal lifespan of an American white oak (Quercus alba) rarely exceeds 300 years.
As the oldest white oak tree in America, it was a witness to history. In May of 1780, Gen. George Washington hosted a lunch for the Marquis de Lafayette under the already ancient tree’s branches to discuss Revolutionary War strategy. The tree was approximately 8 miles from Washington’s headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. Later, Gen. Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau marched 5,500 French soldiers past the tree on their way to the battle of Yorktown. Some 35 veterans of the Revolutionary War lie buried in the graveyard shaded by the tree.
The tree was already there when a church was built beside it in 1717. The tree was the site chosen by English evangelists James Davenport and George Whitefield in 1740 to preach and spread word of the “Great Awakening” to 3,000 people.
Pollaro has acquired the main lower trunk section of the tree, which will yield a very small number of limited edition legacy tables. “We decided to cut the tree cross-sectionally instead of longitudinally,” Pollaro said. “This makes it possible to display the incredible six centuries of annular rings dating back to the arrival of Christopher Columbus on our shores. Visible to the naked eye, the viewer can easily see each year, and the difference in growth between the years based on weather conditions.”
And there is more history to be seen. “During milling this week, we bisected a Revolutionary War era musket bullet lodged in the tree,” Pollaro said. “We can count back to the exact year that this bullet was fired into the tree. It is a remarkable treasure that will remain part of the table top for this particular slab. The individual pieces are spectacular.”
Each of the limited-edition tables will be accompanied by a leather-bound hardcover book detailing the history of the tree’s life and its unique journey through the felling and milling process and through the production of each individual piece of furniture.
“We have many ideas regarding the design of potential tables and how to memorialize this tree’s life, as well as your own family history,” said Pollaro. He urged people interested in obtaining one of the special furniture pieces made from the tree to contact him at www.pollaro.com.
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