Are you aware that the NJ Forestry has a Nursery in Jackson, NJ?   They grow over 25 evergreen and deciduous trees and shrub species.  The nursery sells these bareroot tree seedlings in early spring, through their Seedlings for Reforestation program, in packs of 50.  They also have another role, They gather acorns and seed pods from current NJ heritage trees for further perpetuation and that is where this story begins.


Introduce Michael Vorwerk, the NJ Forestry Nursery Manager!   Besides making sure the state’s tree nursery is successful, he is responsible for their incredible educational programs on trees.  In 2019, the largest and oldest NJ tree, the picturesque Salem Oak, was downed.  It was approximately 650 years old – so let’s think about what this seedling saw as it grew to the majestic tree that it had become!  Lenni-Lenape, Dutch and Swedish and then the French and British!  Beautiful forest NJ to bustling suburb of New York City!  If only a tree could talk!  The 4th and 5th grade students at Sparta’s Helen Morgan School read “Wish Tree” by Katherine Applegate as part of the “One Book, One School” program.  This short novel is about a tree similar to the Salem Oak and Sparta’s own White Oak on Sparta Historical Society’s property.  


So where does Sparta Historical Society fit in this story?   Remember that NJ Forestry offers educational programs.  One in particular is the Third Grade Seedling program which was to be held, though cancelled by COVID, at the Van Kirk Homestead Museum for all 240 third grade Sparta students in 2020 and 2021 under the beautiful landscape of their White Oak.  This white oak is listed in NJ Big Tree registry and is about 370 years old and is a sight to behold!  It is because of this wonderful tree and the Third Grade Seedling program, like the one Sparta’s 3rd grade students attempted, Sparta Historical and NJ Forestry Nursery became friends during an irregular period of time.  In December 2020, Scott Kercher, Sparta Schools Social Studies Curriculum Supervisor, told Sparta Historical Society about the special Helen Morgan School’s program to be held March-April 2021 involving the Newbury award winning book “Wish Tree”.  Sparta Historical Society knew about the Salem Oak seedlings and immediately contacted NJ Forestry Nursery – and as they say, the rest is history….

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Thanks to the NJ Forestry Nursery, and in particular, Mike Vorwerk, despite the current pandemic, towns throughout NJ may apply for their very own free Salem Oak seedling (while supply lasts).  Mayor Christine Quinn immediately sent an order request and here is a photo of Mr. Vorwerk with our healthy Sparta seedling, to be delivered and planted at Helen Morgan school during a ceremony to cement the lessons from the book and become a lasting memory for the students.   Sparta Historical Society looks forward to its delivery and is grateful to Mike Vorwerk and the NJ Forestry Nursery, Scott Kercher and Sparta Schools and Mayor Christine Quinn for all their efforts!


The Sparta Historical Society is located at The Van Kirk Homestead Museum at 336 Main Street (Rte. 517, use Middle School Driveway) Sparta.  The 2021 continuing exhibit, ”Thomas Alva Edison: The Person, The Vision, His Genius” will be open on Sunday, April 25sth and on every second and fourth Sunday of the month through Sunday, May 23rd from 1:00 - 4:00 pm by APPOINTMENT ONLY. For further details or group reservations, call 973-726-0883 and press 2 or Email: spartahistoricalsocnj@gmail.comFunding has been made available in part by the NJ Historical Commission through the County History Partnership Program, as administered by the Sussex County Arts & Heritage Council.