Granby’s Oak

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Historic Footnotes by the late Carol Luan

Carol Laun wrote many articles about the iconic Granby Oak, also referred to as the Granby-Dewey Oak. Three of her columns, spanning several decades, combine to commemorate Arbor Day, celebrated on April 29.

In 1997, Granby Land Trust purchased the Granby-Dewey Oak property and has maintained the ancient oak since then. In an interview in March of 2022, Land Trust President Rick Orluk said that the Land Trust takes great pride in stewarding the oak. The property is mowed regularly and daffodils have been liberally planted to beautify the area. Rick especially commends Brian Watkins, owner of Arborworks, a professional tree care company, for voluntarily helping to maintain the tree.

In 2021, the Arbor Day foundation sponsored a nationwide vote asking people to select America’s National Tree. From 21 candidate trees, the winner was the Oak, with Redwood, Maple, Dogwood and Pine as runners-up —

History of the Oak

The Granby Oak was a seedling long before the white man came to these shores. Only the Indians and the plentiful wildlife saw it grow.

The tree was mature by the time the settlers pushed inland to Windsor, to Simsbury and finally to Salmon Brook Settlement. The forests were cleared and the land was farmed. But the gnarled Oak escaped the woodman’s axe.

The struggling band of farmers in Salmon Brook survived. The Indians were pushed west. The settlement grew and prospered. England reluctantly gave birth to a new nation and the Oak was already more than 200 years old.

The Oak stood as silent observer of events. Granby became a separate town. There was a war in 1812.

There were fires, floods, droughts, panics, depressions and some prosperity. The people of Granby were born, lived their lives and died. Only the land and the huge old tree stayed the same.

The war with Mexico in 1846 did not disturb Granby’s tranquility. Then came the bloody and terrible Civil War. The Oak saw the young men of Granby march off to battle — many did not return.

The tree on Day Street was 300 years old when our brash young nation celebrated its Centennial. Then came the automobile, World War I, electricity, telephones, radio, World War II — change was rapid now. But the Oak remained constant. The dirt roads in Granby were paved. The farms started to disappear as suburbia reached out. The world had gone from man on horseback to man on the moon in the space of a lifetime.

The ancient tree lives to a different and more primitive tempo: the changeless rotation of the seasons; the miraculous rebirth every spring; the sun, the rain, the wind in all the different guises Nature can provide; the continuity of life!

1976 — America is 200 years old! The Granby Oak is twice that. Its branches are heavy with age and touch the ground. But it is alive and healthy and can live another 200 years with proper care.

The Granby Oak — look at it, photograph it, sketch it, admire it and proudly show it to visitors. But do not climb it or damage it in any way. The protection and preservation of this magnificent tree can be our gift to future generations.

by Carol Laun

­—Granby Drummer, March 1976

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Oak

Much has been written recently about the ancient oak tree on Day Street. It was growing around 1500, long before there was a Granby or a Day Street.

The land it is on has been in the possession of the Dewey family since 1734 when Isaac Dewey ventured into the frontier wilderness of the Salmon Brook district of Simsbury. He purchased 30 acres on Bushy Hill.

Eight generations of Deweys farmed the land and added another 100 acres. When the old homestead was sold in 1976, the family kept about 2 acres, including the Oak. It is now owned by Leroy Dewey of Somers (at 90, the Patriarch of the Dewey family) and his brother Leslie, a Simsbury flower grower. The tree stands partly on Dewey soil and partly on Granby right of way.

The Oak has had a special place in Granby’s hearts for a long time. In 1958 the women of South Congregational Church, led by the late Christine Loomis Case, commissioned New York artist George L. Hollrock to make an oil painting of the old White Oak for the Parish House. Hollrock gave an original ink sketch of the tree to Mrs. Case, which was later given to the Salmon Brook Historical Society.

For a number of years, Mary Edwards and her mother, the late Helen Bunce Edwards, quietly cared for the tree. In 1968, with maintenance costs increasing, a grant from the Holcomb Fund and money from the Sow and Reap Garden Club—both from South Church—paid for spraying and pruning. Sow and Reap assumed this responsibility for the next 11 years.

In 1975 the Town of Granby started using the Oak as a symbol in the town’s seal. A year later, when the Dewey farm was sold, they considered selling the tree. The Granby Conservation Commission and the Granby Land Trust started a fund drive. However, the family decided not to sell. The oak was too important to them.

When the Sow and Reap Garden Club felt that they could not continue full responsibility for the tree as spraying and maintenance costs had increased, the Conservation Commission was asked to help.

Money to maintain the tree was raised privately in 1980 with over $300 donated by the Civic Club, Sow and Reap and two individuals. Since then the spraying program has been in the Conservation Commission budget.

This year the tree was cut from the budget and the result was the establishment at the Simsbury Bank and Trust of an Oak Account to accept contributions, which the bank generously offered to match up to $500. The fund will be administered by a committee with representatives from the Selectmen, Conservation Commission,  Granby Land Trust and Historical Society.

A deluge of advice has been offered about the Oak, and few of the experts seem to agree. Should the road be moved or will road work damage the roots? Should the surrounding area be cleared or left natural? Should the poison ivy be removed? Should the tree receive deep or surface fertilizer or none? Should the limbs be cabled or not? (They cannot be lifted, only supported.) Should trucks over a certain height be banned from Day Street?

A yearly spraying program is necessary for gypsy moths, canker worms and a fungus disease that withers the leaves. Proof that spray used is not a broad-spectrum poison is the reported nest of wild honeybees in the tree after many years of spraying. Perhaps the best advice was given by UConn Cooperative Extension foresters who said, “Don’t over-care for the tree and possibly kill it with kindness.”

All things living are mortal and as we all try to achieve a kind of immortality with our children — so it is with the Oak. About five years ago an acorn from the Granby Oak was planted and is thriving. It will be moved to the grounds of the Historical Society in 1986 to celebrate Granby’s centennial.

by Carol Laun

­—Granby Drummer, April 1984

Editors Note: Those protecting the tree had no way of knowing that almost 500 years in, the invention of GPS would be the old Oak’s undoing. Box trucks directed by GPS to use Day Street as a shorter route from Rt. 189 to Rt. 20 and beyond, damaged the lowest limb that overhung the road. Although it was cabled, it finally succumbed to the damage. The “Halloween Blizzard” of 2011 and a 19- to 20-inch accumulation of heavy, wet snow felled more branches, further changing the tree’s profile. Unfazed, the old tree settled into its roots and survived, remaining the symbol of the history and enduring strength of Granby.

Which Granby Oak?

Mention the Granby Oak and most people immediately picture the reaching branches of the ancient oak on Day Street. The Granby-Dewey Oak is estimated to be nearly 500 years old and is a symbol of the town.

However, there are four other commemorative oaks in Granby.

The Constitution Oak

In 1902, a Constitutional Convention was held in Hartford. The delegates from the 168 towns (there are now 169) drafted a new state constitution, which was overwhelmingly defeated at the polls.

Someone thought a souvenir of the convention would be appropriate and suggested little oak trees. A request was made to the United States Department of Agriculture and 168 tiny pin oak trees were presented to the delegates to be planted in their towns. The delegate from Granby was Theodore Mills Maltbie, a prominent Hartford attorney. He was a replacement for his friend and neighbor, Judge William Cullen Case. Case, who represented Granby in the General Assembly in 1881 and 1884, was unanimously elected a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1900, but he died before it assembled.

At that time, the Granby Green was not cared for except just prior to Memorial Day, when James N. Loomis sent men and horses to mow and rake the grass. Therefore, it was felt the Constitutional seedling would be safer and more likely to survive on private property. The tree was entrusted to the widow and children of William C. Case, who planted it in the east yard of their home at 4 East Granby Road.

In 1927, the state librarian, George S. Godard from North Granby, wrote a letter to all the state newspapers asking for a report on what happened to the oaks. Godard heard from 105 towns that had received the tree in 1902. “Twenty-two towns had no report of such a tree,” said Godard’s final report.

A West Hartford man, Allen B. Cook, spent three years (1935-38) searching for the Constitutional Oaks. He found 110 alive and 36 dead. He could not find the other 22 and was not even sure they were ever planted. Cook wrote a 200-page report of his search.

The state historian of the Daughters of the American Revolution located and photographed 54 of the trees in 1953. Mrs. Charles G. Harvey and her daughter, Althea, did this as a DAR scrapbook project.

In 1957, the Constitution Oak in Granby was marked with a suitable plaque by the Granby Civic Club, in a ceremony attended by Judge Theodore G. Case, who had helped his mother plant the tree when he was a boy.

Following this tradition, seedlings from descendants of the legendary Charter Oak were given to the 84 delegates to the 1965 Constitutional Convention. However, Granby did not have a delegate at that convention.

Two Offspring of the Charter Oak

In 1968, Granby did receive “a very small grandson of the original Charter Oak.” It was planted in the center of the circle in front of the town hall to commemorate United Nations Day. The program was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, and the tree was a gift from the city of Hartford.

The Charter Oak, a white oak tree that grew in Hartford, was the traditional hiding place of the Connecticut royal charter. It was spirited away and hidden in the tree when Governor Edmund Andros demanded it in 1687.

To celebrate the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, the Granby Conservation Commission requested another seedling descended from the Charter Oak. It was planted in the small park in the center of West Granby. The Civic Club funded the landscaping in the park. The tree was dedicated to Tudor Holcomb, who helped plant the seedling. Tudor Holcomb was a generous benefactor to Granby, and one of his many gifts to the town was the small park.

Granby Oak II

The newest oak in town was planted on Arbor Day 1986 to celebrate Granby’s Bicentennial. It was grown from an acorn from the old Granby Oak on Day Street and transplanted on the grounds of the Salmon Brook Historical Society—Granby Oak II. The new Preservation Barn is being built next to Granby Oak II, which is carefully protected from the construction.

All of these oaks, ranging from mini to mighty, are thriving. These trees, whatever their size, reach back into the past and provide continuity into the future.

by Carol Laun

­—Granby Drummer, Sept. 2006