Sussex County History Today: The Old Oak Tree

| 20 Sep 2022 | 02:30

As years come and go, the lifetimes of humans may bloom and then fade away. Nature has other life surrounding us, many of which have longer lives. One type of the long living objects that are before our eyes every day are — trees. With all the bustle of modern life, humans make an impact for 75 or so years and then pass on. Many trees outlive humankind, standing before us, existing in our common world, and occupying many of the same places as we do. They silently are in commune with us.

A long-standing school system, Sussex County’s own Franklin Borough, has been established in its current building since 1915. For over 100 years, thousands of students have attended and graduated this school. One class, my mother’s, just had their 75th high school reunion and sang the Alma Mater. “There’s a high school on the hilltop where the oak tree stands so strong...”

The oak tree is now being recognized as a subtle but dominant contributor to many a child’s education. Standing tall, and strong, in front of Franklin School, it creates a presence, a unique signature, for all who have attended.

Recently, a forester from the New Jersey DEP Department of Forestry examined the tree. Its age is estimated at having begun its life in 1740, well before the Revolutionary War. It has survived all these years, and in its maturity has stood guard at the entrance to the school.

On September 21, a ceremony was held to recognize the oak tree’s importance to the community and students. State Senator Steven Oroho and several dignitaries were scheduled to attend. The entire school honored the great figure of life and constant supporter of the students’ education. This towering canopy that has been a stalwart sentinel to the rising scholars will have its day in the sun.

An additional celebration followed the installation of a new oak tree. This is a seedling from the ancient Salem Oak, New Jersey’s oldest oak tree. The 600-year-old tree fell about two years ago. The only remnants of the ancient tree were the small acorns that the tree dropped during her last days. Some of these have been nurtured to seedlings. One 1-foot-tall seedling has been given to Franklin School and is being planted now. A plaque from the Salem Quakers, from whose churchyard the tree had stood, will be placed near the tree to verify its proud source and to codify the remarkable seniority of the Salem Oak.

There are so many small reminders of our past in Sussex County. Many old statues and edifices, homes and barns, and our taciturn companion trees, are here beside us if we only take a moment to look, and to think.