Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord. — Joshua 24:26
The life of our Great White Oak Tree has spanned some 600 years, first sprouting from an acorn around 1400. It was already a mature 300 years old when the founders of our church decided that alongside the oak was a perfect place to build the log cabin which would serve as the first house of worship for the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church. Over the succeeding 300 years, the majestic tree has witnessed the construction of two new church buildings on the same site, the creation of a historic cemetery under its branches and countless events chronicling our church’s and the community’s history. The Great White Oak has served as a symbol of strength and continuity for everyone who has had the pleasure of gazing upon it and has connected generation after generation who have all said: “No matter where I go, I will always have fond memories of that Great White Oak.”
References to the Great White Oak Tree appear over and over again throughout our history. In 1740, during the “Great Awakening” religious revival, the Reverend George Whitefield, a British evangelist, preached to about 3,000 people under and around the tree. During the Revolutionary War, it is said that George Washington and the Marquis De Lafayette met at the oak tree. We have a picture of a large gathering under the oak tree celebrating our 200th Anniversary. In 2006, many guests enjoyed a reception under the tree during a ceremony rededicating our historic churchyard and cemetery.
Now, returning to the present time, we have reached a point in our history where we have to say goodbye to our historic oak tree. The slow decline in leaf cover over the past several years accelerated last summer to the point that our historic tree experts declared our precious tree at the end of its life. A dramatic farewell to the tree occurred last November when over seven hundred people gathered to say “thank you” for providing so many years of shade and comfort to the community.
As we take this month of April in our 300th Anniversary year to honor the legacy of our remarkable tree, we will also witness its dismantling the week of April 24th. Although it will close a 600-year chapter in our area’s history, we are blessed to be able to continue its legacy in the form of a “teenage” white oak grown from one of our Great Oak’s acorns. This white oak has been thriving in a Historic Tree Grove on the Union County College Cranford campus and has graciously been donated by the college administration to our church. It will be planted on our church grounds this month in an open area behind our sanctuary. Thus, our current generation will be able to witness the circle of life illustrated by the passing of the Great White Oak and the emergence of a new white oak that will continue to thrive and grow for future generations.