A touching farewell to a revered white oak in Wading River

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Highway Superintendent George 'Gio' Woodson joined Wading River residents in a farewell hug Thursday morning.

A group of Wading River residents came out early Thursday to bid farewell to an historic white oak believed to be about 240 years old, and one of the oldest hardwoods on Long Island.

The tree is believed to have been standing at North Country Road and Wading River Manor Road since before the American Revolution.

Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson told the Riverhead Town Board two weeks ago that two arborists he had consulted said the tree is a danger to residents — and that he has a responsibility to take it down.

“I don’t like taking down trees, but it’s my responsibility to do what’s right for the town,” Mr. Woodson said at the time, despite the protests of some who attended a Town Board work session to discuss the matter.

“I don’t want the liability to be on my head,” Mr. Woodson said.

The residents who showed Thursday morning asked that some of the cross-sections be saved as a means to determine the tree’s age from the rings. Some suggested  wood could be made into benches for the Wading River Historical Society.

Wading River resident Frank Vaughn said his brother has a mill where the wood can be milled into planks.

He  and the others have also shown concern with finding the storied mile-markers that then-Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin placed on the trunk of the tree when he devised a mile-marker plan in 1755 to determine mail delivery costs.

The original marker is thought to have been encompassed in the growth of the tree. It was replaced by another mile-marker which can be seen on the trunk of the tree in a photographed dated 1906.

Jane Alcorn wrote a poem late Wednesday night called “I was here,” which she recited during the impromptu farewell  ceremony Thursday morning, which even saw Mr. Woodson wrap his arms around the tree with the rest of the passionate residents who turned out.

The tree is described in “Trees of Long Island,” published by the LI Horticultural Society in 1972, as the ninth-largest white oak on Long Island.

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BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Town work crews started from the top of the massive tree.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Joyce Wood (from left) Carol Ebis, Jane Alcorn and Susan McMahon sprinkle water to commemorate "the life of this noble white oak."