|The Centennial Oak.
You often hear us say that every tree tells a story.
Well, it's true. When people come across an impressive, mature
tree, they often wonder what kind of stories it might tell if it
could talk. What historic tales would it share, detailing the
monumental events that have happened in its shade? Would this
watchful tree, unmoving and trusted by those nearby, be able to
disclose even more specifics than the humans recording historical
In fact, some trees have stories so remarkable, you can't help
but spread the word, telling its tale to others … almost like
you're sitting at a campfire at night, sharing old legends with
One tree that certainly has many stories to tell is a 46.9-inch
diameter centennial oak located across the street from the South
Newbury Union Chapel in Newbury, Ohio - the location where the
first female voters cast their ballots for a local election. The
Women's Suffrage Political Club planted the tree on July 4, 1876 as
a symbol of hope in the growth of their cause.
I recently visited the 135-year-old tree and have to say its
massive branches and large stature are impressive.
Recently, The Davey Tree Expert Company donated some time to
help preserve the tree to ensure it maintains its significant place
in history as a symbol of strength and, above all else,
Here is the tale of the Centennial Oak.
COURAGEOUS WOMEN PLANT A COURAGEOUS SYMBOL
More than 130 years ago, women's suffrage established its roots
in a little white chapel in Newbury Township.
|South Newbury Union Chapel trustees and champions
of the Centennial Oak: Michael Fath, Beverly Ash
and Sandra Woolf.
Nine women became Ohio's first female voters in 1871 when they
stormed the South Newbury Union Chapel and cast their ballots for a
local election. This democratic move came 48 years before women
were granted the right to vote in 1919.
"South Newbury was a bastion of reform and free speech," says
Michael Fath, a chapel trustee. "It's democracy - the reason why
this country is the way it is. It started in little Newbury." The
chapel was bestowed with an historical marker from The Ohio
Historical Society in August 2010.
President James A. Garfield was the inspiration for the
construction of the chapel in 1858. Before his presidency when he
was a teacher, he was refused access to another nearby church
because members felt his speech for the Congregationalists in
Newbury was too controversial. As a result, the land across the
street was donated by a local resident for building the South
Newbury Union Chapel as a place for "lectures on all useful
subjects, open and free for all denominations ... to be monopolized
by no one or more to the exclusion of any one." Freedom of speech
and other constitutional rights became the chapel's backbone ever
In addition to the first female voters, several famous speakers
also chose the chapel as a venue, including pioneers in the women's
suffrage movement Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone and Ellen Munn;
authors Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Taylor Upton; and Theodore
Parker, advocate of the eight-hour work day.
A white oak was planted to honor the country's 100th birthday on
July 4, 1876 by the Women's Suffrage Political Club that regularly
met at the chapel. The oak was chosen as the best tree to signify
strength and growth as the years went by, and represent what they
hoped would be a symbol of the advancement and success of their
cause. Because bitter antagonism prevailed against equal rights for
women at the time, the women decided to plant the tree on private
property across the street from the chapel to better ensure its
survival. A jar buried in concrete at the tree's base contained a
history of the club and a program and poem about the day it was
planted. No longer in need of hiding, an historical marker
commemorating the tree was recently placed at the road in front of
Once made aware of this historical site and the fact that the
tree was in decline with stunted growth, The Davey Tree Expert
Company has been instrumental in providing many of the cultural and
remedial recommendations as outlined by experts from The Davey
"The Davey crews worked hard to turn this historic site into a
place to be visited and remembered," says Bill Ginn, the current
champion of the preservation efforts surrounding this historic
Preserving this monumental tree is important for Davey. It's a
part of one of the company's local service areas, one of its
Sandy Woolf, chapel trustee and whose ancestor was a member of
the second oldest Women's Political Suffrage Club, explained this
feeling best. "As long as this chapel stands nobody owns it," she
says. "The people own it." Both the chapel and the tree are
recorded as being built and installed by "individuals of Newbury
and the vicinity" with no names attached, echoing the overall
message of unity and hope both represented.
And for what the tree signifies, keeping it thriving is
important to Ohio history and American history. As a
sentiment said in Anna Medora Green's poem written on July 4, 1876
for the dedication of this Equal Rights Centennial Oak Tree:
|A closer look at the Centennial Oak's branching structure.
"This emblem of our righteous cause
We plant as a protest to unjust laws.
May it stand as a witness til woman is free
A monument grant, this Centennial Tree.
And may this oak rooted deep in the ground
Shooting up, branching out ever living be found
An emblem, a witness a monument be
Long life to our dear Centennial tree."