BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Local lore has always had it that the famed Basking Ridge oak tree presiding over the town center was about 600 years old.
Turns out the guesstimate may have been amazingly close.
Township Administrator Bruce McArthur reported last week that analysis of a slab showing the rings in the tree, felled earlier in the spring after it had stopped producing leaves and died, indicated the age of the great white oak was 619 years.
"We have cut one slab that allows us to see the year of [the tree's] origin, 1398," Frank Pollaro of Pollaro Custom Furniture, which last year hosted a fundraiser to help cover the cost of removing the massive tree, said in an email that the township had received.
"The tree is 619 years old. We will still send a piece to Yale for verification, but we counted the rings with a lens, three times," Pollaro said in an email that McArthur partially passed on to TAP Into Basking Ridge.
"We are 99 percent sure of the age within five years," Pollaro's email said.
If indeed the tree first made its appearance above earth as a seedling at 1398, that was the recorded year of birth of Johannes Gutenberg, German inventor of the printing press and printer of the Gutenberg bible. It was also 362 years before the establishment of the Township of Bernardston in pre-Revolutionary times (1760).
The Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church held a communitywide "memorial" for the tree in November 2016 that attracted hundreds of people and filled two halls within the church. Attendees then filed out to hear further homage to the tree that has served as the main landmark in Basking Ridge before there even was a town.
McArthur said Pollaro has pledged to make furniture for the church, and a conference table among the ways that the tree is being commemorated. Pollaro also did cuttings for etched items that also memorialized the tree, he said. In excharge for help with the costs of removing the tree, the furniture maker also received much of the wood from the historic oak, he said.
The "son of" the Basking Ridge oak, grown from an acorn, is now growing on property on the opposite side of the church building. The tree was donated by a professor, Dr. Thomas M. Ombrello, who has been growing offspring of historic trees in an arbor at Union County College in Cranford.