back
Connecticut's 1902 Constitution Convention Pin Oaks:
100th Anniversary Report

By Glenn D. Dreyer

In 1902 Connecticut held a convention in Hartford to consider updating our State Constitution. Delegates from all 168 towns attended and worked on the document, which was apparently soundly defeated by a subsequent statewide vote (Zaiman 1965). Joseph R. Hawley, one of Connecticut's US Senators, arranged for the US Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry to provide Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) seedlings, which he distributed to each of the 168 participants at the close of the Convention to commemorate the experience. The delegates took the little trees back home, where they were planted on town greens, school yards, church yards and, in many cases, on the delegate's own property. Since there is still some confusion, it should be noted that these trees have no relationship to the Charter Oak (a White Oak, Quercus alba), offspring of which have also been used for commemorative purposes. No information regarding the parentage of these Pin Oaks has yet been found.

Realizing that the surviving 1902 Constitution Convention Pin Oaks were 100 years old in 2002, I decided to resurvey the trees. The Connecticut Notable Trees Committee had tracked these Oaks once before, in 1986, when volunteers photographed and measured the circumference of many of the trees (Dreyer 1998). Both of these projects were made easier by the systematic efforts of Allen B. Cook, State Shade Tree Inspector and Tree Warden Supervisor, who researched the Constitution Pin Oaks between 1936 and 1938 (Cook 1941). Cook's report gives each tree's circumference at 4.5 ft, the height, the average branch spread, a condition rating, as well as the location of all 110 trees that he found. Thanks to Cooks work and that of our committee, I believe the Constitution Pin Oaks can be considered some of the most significant and best-documented historic trees in the country. It does seem a bit ironic, however, that trees planted to commemorate a political event have become, due to their documentation and survival, more significant than the event itself.

During 2002, 74 surviving Constitution Pin Oaks were located and documented with the following information: ownership, street address and map, circumference at 4.5 ft above ground, average branch spread, height, comments on condition; most were photographed. Ed Richardson, volunteer with the Notable Trees Committee, located and documented the trees of Hartford and Tolland counties; I personally visited those in the rest of the state. These records have become a permanent part of the Connecticut Notable Trees Archive housed at the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London.

Even though many of the trees were surveyed 15 years ago, the location descriptions were not updated at that time. Apparently there wasn't much need for street addresses in the early part of the last century, so in a number of cases we were dealing with locations like "50 feet east of delegate So-and-So's barn." Sometimes it took a while to figure out where the delegate lived in 1902. Other descriptions still worked fine 60 years after Cook wrote them, for example the East Haven tree was easy to find "on the Green in the center of town about sixty feet north from the memorial cannon." We found at least one tree that Allen Cook hadn't been able to locate (in Granby), a few not found by the 1986 volunteers, and a few wrong trees measured in 1986, with the correct individuals relocated in 2002. Less than 20 of these trees had markers to indicate that they had any special significance.

As in Cook's day, the Marlborough Constitution Pin Oak tree is still the smallest of the cohort, measuring 1-foot trunk circumference in 1937, and only 4 feet 6 inches today. It is still being suppressed by the two larger Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) trees mentioned in Cook's report. In 1937, the largest was in Windsor Locks, with a girth of 7 feet 9 inches, but this tree was reported dead by 1985. In 2002, the largest was in Avon at 14 feet 6 inches in circumference. This tree is the only Constitution Pin Oak that I know of that had a 100th birthday party in 2002, complete with a new plaque on the tree. Some additional data on the 1902 Constitution Convention Pin Oaks are provided in the accompanying table.

When checking out a particularly large tree, most people first tend to wonder about its age. Usually this is not nearly as easy to figure out as the size. If trees of a given species all grew at the same rate, it would be fairly easy to accurately estimate the age by measuring it. As can be seen from the table, a group of 74, 100-year-old Pin Oak trees growing in the small state of Connecticut vary greatly in all dimensions. Thus it seems that trying to estimate the age of a trees by it's size is likely to be inaccurate. However, one can say with some certainty that the average 100-year-old Pin Oak will be about 10 feet in circumference.

As far as I know, this is a unique data set; it is very unusual to have good documentation of planting dates for trees this old. I will provide location descriptions and full measurements for each tree on the Notable Trees Website (http://notabletrees.conncoll.edu), and also hope to provide local historic and conservation organizations with specific information about their town tree.

Avon Pin Oak
1902 Constitution Pin Oak Tree Summary
1937 (35 years old) 2002 (100 years old)
Circumference range 1 ft – 7 ft 9in 4 ft 6 in – 14 ft 6 in
Circumference average 4 ft 6 in 9 ft 10 in
 
Height range 15 ft – 80 ft 48 ft – 115 ft
Height average 55 ft 82 ft
     
Branch spread range 13 ft – 54 ft 27 ft – 88 ft
Branch spread average 40 ft 63 ft
     
Total documented alive: 1902 168
  1937 110
  1986 86
  2002 74

References

Cook, Allen B. 1941. The Connecticut Constitution Oaks: Notes by Alan B. Cook. Connecticut State Archives, call no. 342.74, C762,1902oa.

Dreyer, Glenn D. 1998. Connecticut's Notable Trees (Second Revision). Covered Bridge Press. North Attleborough, MA.

Zaiman, Jack 1965. The Needle's Eye: An Oak Story. The Hartford Courant. July 25, 1965. Page?

This report was published in the Newsletter of the Connecticut Botanical Society in 2002 and the Connecticut Urban Forest Council Newsletter in 2003.

© 2013-2018 Connecticut's Notable Trees