by William Sampson
Oldest white oak to become legacy furniture
George Washington picnicked under tree that will see new life as custom furniture,
including one piece with an embedded musket ball, to honor its 600-year heritage.
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 life span 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.
5,500 French soldiers past the tree on
their way to the battle of Yorktown.
Some 35 veterans of the Revolution-
ary 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
Before the tree died, its branches reached a spread of 150 feet. (Photo by Rob Roszell.)