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Basking Ridge Oak Tree

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FUNDRAISER with a Cause!
The Basking Ridge Historic Oak Tree Project Keepsake Book

Basking Ridge Historic Oak Tree Project Cover

The Basking Ridge Historic Oak Tree Project sought students from kindergarten through high school to participate in The Historical Society of Somerset Hills “Tree Views” writing contest and the William Annin Tree Shirt Contest & Fundraiser. The essay premise was that students would write as if they were the historic oak and describe events they felt notable. Every school in Bernards Township participated including Cedar Hill School, Liberty Corner School, Mount Prospect School, Oak Street School, William Annin Middle School, Ridge High School, and the St. James Catholic Elementary School. The tree shirt contest raised over $5440 selling tee shirts while the Historical Society presented a $500 scholarship to the High School essay winner.

The stories are some of the most heartwarming tales we've ever see! The book is 146 pages of art, poems, and stories. Only $30 (Free Student Membership for first 100 orders). Portion of sale includes a donation to THSSH scholarship fund.

The commemorative book is available online or for pickup at THSSH the first Sunday of every month.

Click here for ordering details.


Tree Views Essay

"Tree Views" Essay Contest Winners Announced at Reception

Tree Views Essay Contest Where Students Wrote as if They Were the Tree

It was a fantastic night at Westminster Hall as almost 100 people gathered to hear entrants from the recently completed Tree Views essay contest and the unveiling of the book "The Basking Ridge Historic Oak Tree Project book. Hosted by THSSH Trustee Meg Wastie and the historical society's education committee, the night honored 12 entries and presented awards in four school categories. The final prize, a $500 scholarship check was presented to Rebecca Kilroy from Ridge High School. Seventy five entries were submitted and all were included in the Basking Ridge Historic Oak Tree Project book, along with over 50 images including those submitted in the William Annin Oak Tree T-Shirt contest.

Click Here

The Basking Ridge Oak Tree Tee Shirt

Basking Ridge Oak Tree
Souvenir Clothing

Only available ONLINE
Until June 15th

The fundraising commemorative Basking Ridge Oak Tree shirt is available again for a limited time. T-Shirt - Designed by William Annin Middle School student Hannah Shen, winner of the Oak Tree T-Shirt contest. This will probably be the last campaign. The two previous campaigns have raised $5440 for the project.


History Coloring Book Includes Historic Oak

For Each Coloring Book Purchased
One Book gets Donated to a Local Education Program

Includes multiple Basking Ridge Oak Tree illustrations.
If you'd rather not purchase online, you can get a copy at the Brick Academy in Basking Ridge when they are open.

Somerset Hills History Coloring Book

Order Online Now - Click Here

Ridge Art Students Book

This book is a compilation of artworks and writings inspired by the Basking Ridge Oak Tree by students in the 2016-17 Honors Art Major class from Ridge High School, New Jersey. Price: $50.09. Size Standard Landscape, 10×8 in, 25×20 cm, 46 Pages, Publish Date Jun 08, 2017 Language English.

Details and to order - Click Here


Great Videos

The Oak Tree Boys

Time lapse of the Dismantling of the Great WhiteOak

April 24, 2017

Great Oak Tree Celebration Exhibit May 7, 2017

Call To ArtistsThe Historical Society of the Somerset Hills (THSSH) invited artists who reside in Somerset Hills to create a work of art that expresses how this mighty oak has touched them. More than 20 artists responded with works ranging from poetry and song to paintings and photographic images.

Learn More


Thanks Everyone Who Attended the Walking Tour of Historic Basking Ridge Village! April 23, 2017 - The video covers the last 16 minutes of the tour including our final visit under the Great White Oak Tree. Look on our social media pages for photos from this great day!

The newest resident - the sibiling of the historic oak

The Son of the Historic Basking Ridge Oak Tree Planted in Churchyard

April 11, 2017- 1:17pm

Acorns were collected and planted in 2001 in Cranford, NJ. BRPC transplanted one of these seedlings to a site on the church property. The date is now on April 11, 2017.


We received this video from a Basking Ridge family.
We were touched by their song. Melted our hearts.
Thanks Phoebe and Abigail Giglio, our 9 year old twins from Basking Ridge.


The Greatest (Oldest) Oak Tree in the Western Hemisphere

It's known as the great white oak and is the pride of Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Situated right smack in the center of downtown Basking Ridge just to the right of the historic 1717 Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church sits the great white oak. The tree is the essence of the history of Basking Ridge, a historic section of Bernards Township.

The Historic Oak 2016

The Greatest White Oak History

Before we get started, it's important to note that there is disagreement as to the actual age of the great white oak that stands over the Presbyterian Church in the downtown section of Basking Ridge, New Jersey. The tree is iconic. It's historic, and it's certainly been around longer than anyone that we can tell in our recorded history (except maybe the Lene-Lenape Indians). While the typical apple tree lives for 80 years and maple trees about 150, a common oak typically can live up to 350 years. Then there's this tree #blessourhistoricoak (see campaign below). it's a miracle to see this great oak specimen has survived and thrived over our our local history for what is said to be approximately 600 years old.

Washington Post Cover Ridge Oak TreeBasking Ridge Oak Tree in Newark Star Ledger

The Great White Oak of Basking Ridge Makes the Covers of The Washington Post
and Newark Star Ledger in 2016 - Click Cover Images to Enlarge

So How Big is this White Oak Legend?

First let's put things in a bit of perspective with some background on oak trees. Quercus alba, the white oak, is one of the pre-eminent hardwoods of eastern and central North America. It is a long-lived oak, native to eastern and central North America. Although called a white oak, it is very unusual to find an individual specimen with white bark; the usual color is a light gray. In the forest it can reach a magnificent height and in the open it develops into a massive broad-topped tree with large branches striking out at wide angles.

Quercus alba typically reaches heights of 80 to 100 feet (24–30 m) at maturity, and its canopy can become quite massive as its lower branches are apt to extend far out laterally, parallel to the ground. Trees growing in a forest will become much taller than ones in an open area which develop to be short and massive. The tallest known white oak is 144 feet (44 m) tall. It is not unusual for a white oak tree to be as wide as it is tall, but specimens growing at high altitudes may only become small shrubs. White oak may live 200 to 300 years, with some even older specimens known. The acorns are much less bitter than the acorns of red oaks. They are small relative to most oaks, but are a valuable wildlife food.

Basking Ridge Oak Tree Demensions

In 1924, extensive measurements were taken of the great white oak in Basking Ridge:

  • 16 feet in circumference four feet above the ground
  • 75 feet high
  • It's branches spread over 125 feet from tip to tip
  • 25 feet in circumference at the base
    • Source: Bernardsville News - 1924

In July 1947, extensive repairs were done:

  • 25 feet in circumference at the base
  • 100 feet high,
  • Limbs spread 130 feet.
  • In 1947 they estimated the tree to be between 300-400 years old.
  • 1,150 feet of steel cables were stretched in 35 lines
  • 165 feet of steel rods were deployed
  • 1,500 pounds of fertilizer were applied 12-18 inches below the ground

In 1958 again - measurements were taken:

  • 18 feet in circumference at the base
  • 97 feet high,
  • Limbs spread 156 feet.
    • Source: History of the Presbyterian Church 1961

Nov 10, 1966:

  • 18 feet 2 inches circumference at the base
  • 80' high
  • Limbs spread 138 feet 4 inches
  • "everything shrinks a bit when getting older"
    • Source: Bernardsville News 11/10/1966

Then we have stats from May 2000:

  • 18 feet in circumference at the base
  • 97 feet high
  • Limbs spread over 156 feet
      • Source: Bernardsville News - 6/11/2000

Lore and History are Shared Under the Great White Oak

Famous evangelist George Whitefield preached to over 3,000 people while standing under its branches during the Great Awakening of 1740. According to local lore, General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette picnicked under its protective shade and Revolutionary War soldiers stopped here to rest. Washington established a military hospital a short distance from the tree, in the vicinity of today’s North Maple Avenue.

The present church, built in 1839, rests on the site of two former edifices: a small log meeting house circa 1717 in which the congregation first worshipped and later a larger frame structure, built around 1749. The white oak is located in the church yard which has been a community “burying ground” since the early 18th century with the oldest stone dating to 1736 (Henry Haines, 1687-1736). Over the tombstones broods the ancient tree which stands tall at 97', with a spread of 156' and a circumference of 18'. In the 1930s in an effort to save the tree, a large cavity was filled with 3 tons of concrete and the local water company installed 260 feet of steel rods and 1,500 feet of steel cables to support the weight of the tree's branches. Today, it remains the centerpiece of the historic village. (Source: THSSH Newsletter - May 2014)


It’s Rumored Betsy Ross is Buried Under the Mighty Oak

Betsy Ross

Accounts that Betsy Ross was buried in Basking Ridge were prevalent in the early 1900s.  When doing research for a book about the Bernards Township Library in 1995, this writer found scrapbooks compiled by the late Dr. William Pennington which revealed clippings about the Ross burial.

The earliest mention, however, was in a July 4, 1876 speech given by E.M. Pennington.  He states “Here lies the woman who made the first banner containing the stars and stripes after that honored old ensign had been adopted, June 14, 1776.” The speech was made in the vicinity of the revered old oak tree. Is it true? Click Here to read and decide for yourself.   

Who's Buried Under the Great White Oak

A walk through the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church cemetery just under the great white oak. Narrated by Robert Smith from the BRPC.

Thirty five Revolutionary War Soldiers are buried in the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church cemetery:

Benjamin Alward
John Ayres
Nathaniel Ayres
John Baird
George Bockoven
John Boylan
John Brees Sr.
John Brees Jr.
Stephen Brees
John Carle
Jonas Carle
Hugh Colwell
Daniel Doty
William Doughty
James Finley
John Hall
Samuel Johnson
Alexander Kirkpatrick

David Kirkpatrick
James Kirkpatrick
Edward Lewis
Thomas Logan
Gavin McCoy
Jonathan Miller
John Parker
Samuel Reynolds
Israel Rickey
Thomas Riggs
Peter Sharpenstine
David Simpson
Henry Southard
James Thompson
Jonathan Whitaker Sr.
Jonathan Whitaker Jr.
Stafford Wilson

George Washington Slept Here?

It is noted that George Washington met Lafayette under the old oak tree. In addition, it was reported/stated that General Washington camped "near it's limbs" during his march to Morristown after the Battle of Princeton in 1777. (There was a noted Revolutionary War Hospital in Basking Ridge as well). (Bville News June 24, 1947)

1777 - 45 year old General George Washington met then 20-year-old French Major General Marquis de Lafayette under the old oak tree. (tree would have been a young 239 years old!) The Revolution was tied to many trees, including the famed Liberty Tree in Boston. That tree is no longer with us.

Washington Meets Lafayette under the Historic Oak in 1777
Commander Washington & Major General Marquis de Lafayette
A noted meeting after the winter in Morristown in 1777, While many say it was a picnic - We've yet to confirm.
Meeting - Sure/Picnic - maybe..... But remember - Washington was 45 and Lafayette was only 20!

While the area is rich in Revolutionary War history as Basking Ridge was the home of General Lord Stirling, aide to Washington, it may be true that when General Marquis De Lafayette and Commander Washington met in Basking Ridge, they might have had a "picnic" under the tree. There are historic writings, letters, and diary entries stating that the two met at the tree's location. But then again, how could you not, since it was a crossroad for the area. But a picnic? Why not I guess.

Did You Know?

If you're not a home grown local, you might not know that the great oak tree made it to the township logo as well.

The Basking Ridge Township Flag/Insignia and logo includes two oak leaves; one for Basking Ridge and the other for Liberty Corner. Also the Great White oak is located on 1 East Oak Street, home address to the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church.

Bernards Township 250th Anniversary Flag

1924 - The "Dentist" Visits the Great Oak

It was 1924, and the historic oak tree was having troubles. Overseen by the Trustees of the Presbyterian Church, noted as "The Friends of the Old Oak", noted that the heart of the tree and some of the limbs were in decay.

After the "tree surgeons" from Davey Tree Co. including Martin L. Davey, took a look, they agreed to chisel out the cavity and fill with a special cement. It was stated in the article that,"the hole was big enough to hold three men at a time", stated John Gilley, who was in charge of the operation. Over 1,500 pounds of fertilizer were also applied to the tree and the ground area. It was reported that the cost to repair was $1,200 to $1,500. (Source: Bernardsville News - July 17, 1924)

1924 View of the Basking Ridge White Oak after 3 tons of concrete were added
A 1924 reprint of the historic white oak after gaining 3 tons of modified concrete that was
added to 72 cavities.

Read an exempt of the 1924 tree pruning and repair activities - Click Here.

1947 - Davey Tree Experts Make Another Major Church Call

july 24, 1947:
Tree experts from Davey Tree Co spend three days caring for the states 2nd largest Oak Tree. They fed the tree 700 pounds of food, a nitrogen based powder, checked the 24 year old cement cavity, inspected the cables and posts. They stated that the tree hadn't grown in the last 24 years. Stated tree is 25' at base, 100' high, limbs spread 130 feet. In 1947 they estimated the tree to be between 300-400 years old. The total cost of the renovation was $2,393.08.

1957_ Davey Tree Expert Co. Advertisement

A Few Things You Might Not Have Known About
the Great Oak in our Local History

  • 1410 - "A small acorn fell on the ground in this year which has grown to an estimated 601 years to the giant white oak that now grow in the churchyard of the church." *Source: Pastor and History - The Presbyterian Church
  • It is the only tree to have a spot on the Church's annual Budget every year
  • 1737 - First burial under the great oak - Henry Hains
  • 1740 - George Whitefield and the English Great Awakening was re markedly adapted to open air preaching. On November 5, 1740. This must have been a remarkable occasion for the church and community as it is said 3,000 people came to hear him. Source: A Historical Discourse - Rev. Rankin March 1892
  • 1777 - 45 year old General George Washington met then 20-year-old French Major General Marquis de Lafayette under the old oak tree. (tree would have been a young 239 years old!) The Revolution was tied to many trees, including the famed Liberty Tree in Boston. That tree is no longer with us.
  • 1781 - It was also noted that a "Tory raiding party hitched their horses to the tree in 1781 during a quick sortie into the Hills where the Continental Army was encamped." Bville News July 24, 1947
  • 1924 - mentions “3 tons of concrete” was used to fill 72 cavities along with 1,500 pounds of fertilizer being used.
  • Beneath the tree lie the remains of three of the pastors of the Presbyterian Church. Rev. Joseph Lamb, Rev. Samuel Kennedy, and Rev. John C. Rankin.
  • August 24, 1951 – A twig, a leaf, acorns and a photograph from the Basking Ridge Oak Tree were placed in the cornerstone of the Somerset County Administration Building
  • August 15, 1957 - Received “700 pounds of special “foods” in another effort to restore growth to the oak tree.
  • September 1967 – The Oak Club offers for sale well rooted scions of the famous oak tree that were carefully grown from its acorns.
  • Nov. 9, 1967 Bernardsville News  - Quite interesting is that the Presbyterian Church was celebrating its 250th anniversary and the tree was quoted as being 500 years old. (The 300th anniversary is next year 2017 and the tree is identified as 600 years old….. go figure).
  • May 19, 2005 - Historic Oak "babies" are sold at a fund raiser to restore the tombstones that sit below and around the great oak.

Acorns from Basking Ridge Oak on Sale
Bernardsville News - May 19, 2005

Step Back in Time - The Presbyterian Church and the Holy Oak

The Church and the Oak Tree have a LONG relationship. Click Here to read the 1992 article and learn what to look forward to for the 300th Anniversary of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church (in 2017).

Look back at the 275th anniversary of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church

We also found in the Presbyterian History book an artist rendering of what the church and meeting house looked like in 1717. Back then, as the book stated - the tree was born around 1410 - thus in 1717 the oak tree would have been 307 years old, which is the typical age an oak tree would spend it's entire life. And the roads around the church remind us of pastors from the past (Cross,Finley, Brownlee, Rankin)

Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church c1717 rendering

Rendering of the First Presbyterian Church & Meeting House c.1717
Source: The Presbyterian Church - A Historical Discourse 1872

My Faith, My Hope

"When God is everywhere around, It is not very hard to see
Our token of his loving care, A pillared church beside a tree.
The roots of oak grow deep in earth, A living faith goes deep in me.
O come and share this living strength, In pillared church beside a tree.
Up to the sun the branches go, With hope to lift and set them free.

O come and shine in rising hope, In pillared church beside a tree.
Far from the trunk great limbs extend, In love to shelter you and me.
Come and fulfill your growing love, In pillared church beside a tree.
My faith, my hope, my love I bring, The risen Christ who died for me.
So Hallelujah let us sing, In pillared church beside a tree.
- James L. McFadden
Source: The Presbyterian Church - A History - 1961

The famous Oak Tree in Basking Ridge, New JerseyWhat about the Tree's Age

Is the tree 600 years old? 500 years old? We've been unable to find any verification like carbon dating or DNA testing to determine the trees age, but we did find in 1924 a report that dated the tree. I have heard a humorous quote from long time residents are often saying;

"The oak tree is the oldest in the world. How could anything else beat it's age since it seems to age 100 years every 50 years!"

We did some checking and did in fact find that on Nov 9, 1967 Bville News  - Quite interesting is that the Presbyterian Church was celebrating its 250th anniversary and the tree was quoted as being 500 years old. (The 300th anniversary is next year 2017 and the tree is identified as 600 years old….. go figure.) That's the fun part about historian does start with someone's point of view.

During the 1924 operations to repair the great oak, a piece of wood from the core was chiseled out and taken to tree experts that placed it's age at between 350 and 400 years old. So adding the difference between 1924 and 2016 you'd come up with 92 years, thus making the tree approximately 442-492 years old in 2016.


What's Next for the Great Oak?

The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills has reached out to the Presbyterian Church in an effort to promote the history of the great oak, and see if we could possibly raise money on behalf of their efforts. The program is in discussion and we'll let you know as soon as news is available.

THSSH is also going to launch a photo campaign where locals can go to the historic oak, and take a picture with our hashtag sign. We hope you'll post your pics on Instagram / Twitter /facebook with the following hash tag:


(bless our historic oak)

Post to Social Media a pic of the Basking Ridge Historic Oak with a hashtag #Blessourhistoricoak

"Bill Emmitt, the church trustee in charge of the tree, hopes they won’t have to let go too soon. “Based on the advice we’ve received,” he said Wednesday evening, “there’s enough life in the tree, and the upper part of the tree is strong, so that even though it doesn’t have leaves on it, [the arborists] think with tender loving care it can continue” – at least “for the foreseeable future.” It would, indeed, be a blessing.

Emmitt even holds out hope that once the canopy is inspected, the experts may find “dormant buds” that would indicate some branches could bear leaves again. “We’ve got some good people working on it,” he said. “We’re hoping that with a combination of things, we can have, maybe not a return to the past, but hopefully just keep the old girl going for a while longer.” If not, the tree might need to come down as soon as next year. There may be some consolation, though, in an enterprise a congregant thought up about 10 years ago." (Washington Post - 6/28/2016)

From the Archives: Historic Oak Tree Images

Here are a few older pics of the historic church and Oak Tree. Both Basking Ridge and the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church are on the New Jersey State and National Registers of Historic Places as well.

1909 view of the Great Oak of Basking Ridge
The Great Oak c.1909 -
Church added to National Register of Historic Places Dec. 31, 1974
Basking Ridge Historic District added Aug. 8, 1994



The Great Oak in 1927The Basking Ridge Presbyterian Cemetery
The Great Oak c1927

THSSH Historic Oak Suncatcher

Photo of THSSH's Historic Oak Sun catcher - 5"H x 7"W
created for THSSH by a Trustees daughter.
(July 5, 2016 - LIMITED EDITION - we just found a few at THSSH.
$30 - send an email if interested)

G is for Garden StateO is for the Basking Ridge Oak Tree

G is for Garden State explores the places, people, and landmarks that make New Jersey a fascinating place to live in and to visit again and again. "Q is for Quercus Alba, a 600-year-old white oak tree, stands in the historic cemetery of the Presbyterian Church in Basking Ridge Written by Eileen Cameron, Illustrations: Doris Ettinger. Published in 2004
(THSSH Newsletter - Sept 2010)

The Basking Ridge Historic Oak is in the News

Recently it was released by the Presbyterian Church that there is some sad news about the iconic historic white oak of Basking Ridge. And then came the news trucks and reporters. Below is a compilation of some of those videos and articles:

  • September 17, 2016 - The CBS Evening News profiled the legacy of the 600 year resident - Click Here
  • July 17, 2016 - The Patch - Basking Ridge's 600 Year Old Ancient Tree Is Dying - Click Here
  • July 5, 2016 - Newark Star Ledger - The Mightiest Oak (Cover Story)
  • June 29, 2016 - CBS 2 News - (See Videos above) - White Oak Tree, Believed To Be Oldest In The Country, Showing Signs Of Decay In NJ - Click Here
  • June 29, 2016 - Pix 11 -(See Video Above) Basking Ridge rallies behind 600-year-old white oak tree - Click Here
  • June 29, 2016 - - N. J. white oak - one of the oldest in the county - reportedly may be dying - Click Here
  • June 29, 2016 - -600-year-old New Jersey oak tree is dying - Click Here
  • June 28, 2016 - Mother Nature Network - Town works to save 600-year-old oak - Click Here
  • June 29, 2016 - -New Jersey's 600 -Year-Old 'Holy Oak' is Slowly Dying - Click Here
  • June 28, 2016 - CEI - Is Global Warming Killing America's Oldest Oak Tree? - Click Here
  • June 27, 2016 - Washington Post - The oldest white oak tree in the country is dying — and no one knows why (Cover Story)- Click Here
  • June 10, 2016 - Bernardsville News - Is Ancient Oak Tree in Basking Ridge Dying? - Click Here
  • June 2016 - Our Historic Oak Tree – June 2016 update - Click Here
  • April 30, 2010 - - A Lesson About Basking Ridge's Oldest Inhabitant: The Old Oak - Click Here

Basking Ridge Historic Oak

Click the other buttons below to learn more.

Click to Learn about the History of the Greatest White Oak Tree in North America
Support the Cause and Donate Online
Click Here to Learn about what Events are supporting the Tree Effort



Brooks Betz, Trustee, THSSH
June 28, 2016
Updated: January 26, 2017


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About The Brick Academy

BR_Brick_Academy_Sketch_08_sm.jpgThe Brick Academy (also known as the Basking Ridge Classical Schoolhouse) is a 1809 Federal-style architectural structure located in the center of Basking Ridge in Bernards Township. The Brick Academy has been a boys’ private preparatory school, a public school, a meeting hall for several fraternal and benevolent organizations, and the Bernards Township municipal building. It currently serves as the headquarters of The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills, as well as a schoolhouse and museum to local history. The Brick Academy also celebrated its bicentennial in 2009.


About the Historical Society of the Somerset Hills (THSSH)

Founded in 1928 originally as the Historical Society of Basking Ridge, the mission and name of the society was later changed to The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization including all five communities of the Somerset Hills region: Bedminster Township, Bernards Township, Bernardsville ,Far Hills, Peapack-Gladstone which are all located in Somerset County, New Jersey.

The mission of The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills (THSSH) is to acquire, conserve and share local artifacts and information on matters of local historic interest; cultivate interest in local history; encourage the preservation of local historic resources; facilitate historic research; and preserve, operate, and interpret the Brick Academy.

To further this mission, THSSH sponsors events and activities that promote community awareness and appreciation of the history and architecture of the Somerset Hills. THSSH headquarters is at the Brick Academy in the Basking Ridge section of Bernards Township, where our collections of items of local historic interest are available to the public.


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