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Maryland's Most Historical Tree

At 7:40 a.m. on the morning of December 9, 2015, the sound of the first firing up of a chain saw was heard around the parking lot of St. Paul’s Parish, Kent. It was time to begin the felling of Maryland’s most historical tree, the 400 year old United States Champion Swamp Chestnut Oak (Quercus michauxii).

There have been many claims that other Maryland trees are older, but according to the Big Tree Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service, St. Paul’s tree is the oldest tree which could be documented as such and that date is recorded in the early annals of the Parish as 1682. When looking at this magnificent specimen, one is overwhelmed by its age and awestruck be its beauty when fully leafed out. Its official measurements are recorded as 106 feet in height, 24 feet 6 inches in circumference, and 92 feet in average crown spread.

One also wonders at its age when one recalls that this remarkable tree was in its infancy when the early settlers were first arriving in America in the first part of the 17th century. It was almost 100 years old when Michael Miller and other prominent landowners decided to build their new church on the current site in 1695. There were other very large trees close by, but over the centuries they have been felled by the various hurricanes and violent winds which are prevalent on the Delmarva Peninsula. The others, at least seven white oaks are long gone, but this tree remained standing majestically at the entrance to our historic church, which itself, is over three hundred years old.

In 2010, St. Paul’s Swamp Chestnut Oak was one of four remaining “Penn’s Woods Trees” in Maryland. These trees are so called as a result of an investigation commissioned in the 1930’s to locate, evaluate and list all the trees in Greater Pennsylvania (which at that time included Maryland’s Eastern Shore and Delaware) which were thought to have been alive in 1632, the year when William Penn arrived in the New World to assume governorship. Now sadly, there are only three of these trees left standing. Other notoriety has come to this awesome tree in that for the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the United States in 1976, The Maryland Bicentennial Commission identified the tree as a Maryland Bicentennial Tree, an event which is memorialized by a plaque at its base. However, the most commendable event was on April 30, 2010, when St. Paul’s Kent was notified that its Swamp Chestnut Oak was designated United States Champion, i.e., the largest of its species in the nation. It is officially recorded in Maryland’s Big Tree Program Certificate Register # BT-0246.

However, with age comes frailty and poor health and since 2010, when this glorious monarch of God’s creation had reached its peak, it has been in noticeable decline. Over the past few years, the tree has lost extraordinarily large limbs which when they fell, have come dangerously close to injuring passersby. The tree had become unbalanced and while appearing strong, had become a liability which the Vestry, after much discussion and consultation, decided that the best course of action was to take the tree down. However, even at this decision point, the Vestry recognized the need to preserve in memorials of various designs, memories of this amazing wonder. Needless to say that its grandeur will long live in the hearts of many of St. Paul’s Parishioners. The Reverend Samuel Hartman conducted a well-attended Memorial Farewell Service at the tree’s base on Sunday, December 6th.

The actual felling which had started early on December 9th, and which had drawn both the curious and a Baltimore television station (WJZ-Channel 13) was completed about 8 hours later at 3:57 p.m. The chain saws were quiet as were the watchers who were thinking of the wonders that this tree had witnessed over its extraordinary life. The wood was removed by Vicco Von Voss, a noted fine furniture maker in Chestertown, and while the once champion tree is gone, its spirit will be incorporated into Vicco’s beautiful designs and will live long in his wonderful creations creates. The impact of losing this tree is widely felt, however, the Vestry has received an offer of a 25 foot off spring of our departed champion grown from its acorns gathered years ago. There are other off spring locally grown from its acorns as well and we may be able to begin a new program of growing Swamp Chestnut Oak at St. Paul’s.

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