Some of the biggest white oaks ever known in America
The Waverly (or Waverley) Oaks were a group of very large and very old white oaks that grew near Boston, in a corner where the towns of Watertown, Belmont and Waltham meet. I use the past tense because the last of these big old oaks has apparently died. A monument has been erected in their memory.
About 8 years ago, I first read some articles about the Waverley Oaks in turn-of-the-century periodicals in the Library of Congress (LOC) American Memory website. Two of the most extensive and informative articles were:
- "The Waverly Oaks" (with an excellent photo of some of the trees) by Professor C.S. Sargent, published in Garden and Forest, February 19, 1890,
- "Waverley Oaks" in The Atlantic Monthly, September, 1877.
- I also found some photographs of the Waverly Oaks in the LOC Detroit Publishing Company collection.
The poet, James Russell Lowell, was particularly fond of Beaver Brook and its small waterfall near the ancient oaks. He spoke of the grove of oaks as the "Beaver Brook Oaks," and somehow wrote a poem about Beaver Brook without even mentioning them.
Recently, I've enjoyed reading more about the Waverley Oaks in some of the old books that Google has digitized. In the pieces I've read, there's little agreement about how many trees there were. An 1881 account of the trees, included in a Harpers Magazine article about James Russell Lowell said there were only seven or eight oaks at Beaver Brook and one elm which was dying.
A year later, The Massachusetts Horticultural Society specifically states that the Harpers Magazine article is wrong -- there were twelve or fourteen oaks, not just seven or eight.
I feel sure that Professor C.S. Sargent of Garden and Forest did an accurate count. He was a scientist. He reported in his 1890 article about the Waverly Oaks, "There are in this group, twenty-three large oaks and one large elm growing on an area of two or three acres. The Oaks are all White Oaks with the exception of a single Swamp White Oak."
Similarly, there is much disagreement over the age of the trees with estimates from 100 years to 1000 years and a reported tree-ring count of over 600 on a stump. I don't know who to believe, but I'm inclined again to take the word of Professor Sargent, who wrote that the trees were at most 500 years old.
You can read reports of the enormous size of the trees at the various links I've included here.
Professor Sargent probably wouldn't have liked this sentimental description of the Waverley Oaks, but it's within the age parameters that he granted them.
The magnificent Waverly oaks were mature trees when the keel of the Mayflower touched the gleaming sands of Plymouth harbor.
The south wind played the same soothing melodies through their branches then as now, though the Indian, whose moccasins noiselessly trod the sward at their feet, has vanished from the face of the earth and the humble Pilgrim from Leyden has inspired and created the greatest nation of the civilized world.
The old trees saw the Red man and the Englishman play their parts and are still sturdy—as well they need be— while they listen to the polyglot tongues that now babble around them.
Seasons come and go, leaves ripen and fall, buds unfold into leaf and blossom, but the tree grows on and on and recks not that the white headed old man who thoughtfully reposes in its shade is the same person who sported beneath its limbs in childhood's merry hours.
Source: An 1893 speech by Nathan Mortimer Hawkes
I read in 2001 that the State of Massachusetts was collecting acorns to propagate the last tree of the Waverly Oaks. I can't locate that information on the internet anymore, but I hope the project is still being pursued.