A 230-year-old White Oak Tree Planted On George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate Falls Over
It was probably a sapling when George Washington returned to Mount Vernon in 1783, triumphant after his victory in the Revolutionary War.
It was probably there on the estate in 1787 when he left for the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and it grew during his terms as the country’s first president. It was there when he came home for good, and when he died in 1799.
Droughts came and went, along with two centuries of American history. (Civil War soldiers carved insignia in its bark.) Then, late one night earlier this month, the tired old white oak gave out and came crashing down across a road in the woods.
Caretakers on the grounds of Mount Vernon heard it fall just before midnight on Nov. 4.
“Middle of the night,” Dean Norton, Mount Vernon’s director of horticulture, said Thursday. “No wind. It just falls over.”
It was about 115 feet tall, 12 feet around, and at roughly age 230, it was almost as old as the United States.
Witness to so much history, “trees just give up, on occasion,” Norton said. It wasn’t sick. “It just was its time.”
The tree dated at least to 1780, he said. Once it had fallen, and was cut, he was able to carefully measure the tree rings that help date a tree and tell its story.
“Oak tree rings are probably some of the easiest rings to count,” he said. “They’re really distinctive.” He said his count is conservative. “The tree could be older than 1780, but I can honestly say that it at least goes back to that.”
George Washington owned the Mount Vernon plantation, along with its home and more than 100 enslaved people, from 1761 until he died. He and his wife, Martha, are buried on the property, which is on the Potomac River about 15 miles south of Washington.
Norton said there is also a possibility that Washington had purposely transplanted the tree from the local woods. It had stood in what looked like a man-made triangle of three trees, all the same age, all the same kind, and never cut down.