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Salem Oak, Salem, New Jersey

Salem Oak, Salem, New Jersey

I’m a dedicated “tree hugger,” and this huge old oak tree is probably the most famous tree in New Jersey. Every child in Salem County was early made aware of it’s place in the annals of local history. Under it’s gracefully arching branches it is said that William Penn signed a treaty with Lenni Lenape Indian leaders in 1675. With that treaty Penn secured the purchase of the surrounding area. The cost of the purchase, as reported by the Salem Historical Society, was about 20 gallons (2 ankers) of rum, 8 knives and 3 pairs of scissors. As of 2011, when this picture was made, the tree still stood on the grounds of the Friends Burial Ground on West Broadway in Salem. A Quaker Meeting House of brick, built in 1772, stands between the site of the venerable oak and the Salem City Library. Salem County is a veritable history treasure chest chock-a-block full of American historical gems. The city of Salem itself, which is located on the Salem River, was founded by John Fenwick in 1673. Originally enriched with a massive forest, this area of south Jersey was cleared, and farming and shipping became important. Many of the oak trees that made up the area’s forest were probably converted into ships. Shipbuilding and trade were engaged in extensively at the port of Salem. By my early lifetime, the Salem Oak was a lone survivor of an extensive original oak forest, being over 400 years old, towering over 80 feet into the southern New Jersey sky, and covering more than a quarter acre of ground. Most of south New Jersey is now known for its vast stands of pine trees. Starting on the grounds where the Salem Oak stands, one can walk through the town of Salem and see 24 buildings listed in the Salem City Heritage Trail. Salem County contains many more homes and other structures which are of historical interest. The site of the old oak is a good place to begin. It bears mute but beautiful testimony to the strength needed to overcome the vicissitudes of time and has been witness to many historical events.

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