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Davey Tree Detectives Discover a Secret Nearly 100 Years Old Within a White Oak Tree

October 31, 2013

Its precarious stature leaned over the precious landscape below, casting menacing shadows upon the moonlit earth. Even the slightest breeze threatened to snap limbs from its ancient canopy and scatter them across the lawn. And as branches and small twigs danced in the wind, creaking and squeaking sounds illustrated the suffering of an old, gentle giant.

While I could compare the description above to a scene from one of my favorite Halloween films, the "old, gentle giant" is actually a historic tree that had suffered damage from severe weather; damage that  unfortunately caused the tree's ailing health and removal from a special site.

When historic landmarks, properties and trees, in particular, are in lieu of harmful situations, Davey steps in. A special 220-plus-year-old white oak tree with history dating to George Washington's era received this treatment. The way the tree was dangerously leaning over the landscape below, as well as the fast-approaching summer storm season, prompted Davey to take action.

White oak tree cavity filling
The Tudor Place's white oak standing in May 1919, just after tree surgeons installed its metal brace. Photo: Tudor Place Archives

WHITE OAK TREE INSPECTION: FOR SAFETY'S SAKE. Davey's Washington D.C., residential crew has been working for the Tudor Place Foundation for many years. The property, which features an office within an historic house adjacent to the museum, has witnessed a bit of all Davey's residential tree care services. "Nearly everyone from our office has worked there at some point," explains Assistant District Manager Brian Leatherman.

In recent years, Davey crewmembers have begun to notice substantial decay at the base of the old, 100-foot tall white oak located on the north property line of the Georgetown estate. The tree had suffered from decay prior to recent ailments. In fact, the museum curator has discovered photos and records of cement installation within the white oak's trunk from 1919. "It's possible Davey completed the cement installation at the estate," Leatherman explains.

More recently, severe weather, such as the derecho of summer 2012, had damaged the estate's tree canopy. Davey's crew had been monitoring the white oak for years before Suzanne Bouchard, Tudor Place arborist and director of gardens and grounds, noticed fissures at the tree's roots, indicating failure.

White oak tree removal
Davey crewmembers work on the complete removal of a white oak at the Tudor Place.

The tree's excessive lean over a main walkway, orchard and well-manicured rose garden determined it was hazardous to the property and its visitors. Davey had pruned the tree to decrease the weight leaning its structure to one side, but the time came for complete removal.

WHITE OAK TREE REMOVAL: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. When Davey approached the white oak for the last time, preparing to carefully remove it from the ground, the tree didn't seem too eager to say goodbye to the space it's called home for 200-plus years.

The crew that had filled the tree cavity nearly 100 years ago had completed the job so well, the wood surrounding the concrete filling remained intact--and quite difficult to detach from the tree's structure.

Upon sawing the trunk in preparation for complete removal on the third day of the project, Davey crewmembers discovered its concrete filling-and steel bars keeping it in place.

Over the course of six days, Davey's crew removed the tree from the property, piece-by-piece. "The removal had to be done with a slight hand to keep the integrity of the garden beneath the lean of the tree," Leatherman says. In addition to the removal, Davey's crew completed the project with stump grinding.

White oak tree removal
Davey crewmembers examine the cement filling they found within the white oak tree they removed from the Tudor Place.

WHITE OAK TREE REPLACEMENT: RETAINING A LEGACY. Because the historic white oak tree had retained much prestige for the property, Davey will replace it with a new 5- to 6-inch caliper white oak in spring. As Leatherman says, "The client was interested in replanting to retain historical accuracy."

Have you ever had to say goodbye to a tree you loved that required removal? Share your special tree experiences in the comment field below!

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