By Randy Cavin
It provided years of cooling shade in the summer and it went through harsh winters with whistling winds from the north.
The old white oak tree located on the property of Jim and Aline Roberts in Sharon saw its share of bad weather; however, it saw its final storm on May 3.
That severe line of thunderstorms brought down many trees throughout the county. But none may have been more majestic with its sprawling limbs than the 139-year-old white oak in Sharon.
The tree itself was massive with a 17-foot circumference near the base of the trunk. Marlin Bowles and Morton Arboretum came up with a way several years ago to determine the age of trees by measuring the circumference instead of cutting a tree down or waiting for one to die to test the age of it.
Back in 1994, there were some gentlemen from Memphis traveling throughout West Tennessee in search of the oldest trees in each county. One day they were on the old Highway 45 in Sharon when they spotted a huge white oak. They had to stop to take a closer look at the tree.
“What we understood was, they were going around the county looking for the oldest trees they could find of the different species,” Jim Roberts said. “They stopped, took a measurement, went up to the house, and told Aline about it. I do not think it was the oldest white oak. I think they found another one, but it was among the oldest white oaks.”
The tree may have been one of the more impressive ones those men saw in the county. A 270-year-old white oak at Meridian Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Greenfield died in June of 2009. The Tennessee Division of Forestry took a test of the dead tree and determined its age.
But still, a tree that sprouted from an acorn 139 years ago is quite amazing. Just to put that in perspective, think about what was going on in 1881. Billy the Kid was running loose in New Mexico before Sheriff Pat Garrett killed him in July of 1881, President James Garfield was inaugurated and assassinated three months later, and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place.
The Roberts’ tree not only provided a cooling shade on a hot summer day; it also was home to some of the local wildlife.
“All down through the years, there has been a hole in the root area of the tree that raccoons, and so forth, have been denning in,” Roberts said. “I just thought it was a small hole. When the tree came down, I could tell it was only the superficial part of the roots that were holding it up. It did not have a root wad that a typical oak tree has.”
The white oak grew near a ditch, which usually has water in it. So, the acorn that it grew from was in a good spot as it always had water. That could be the reason it was able to grow to be so massive.
However, that ditch would be its undoing as it ran east-to-west. The storm that brought down the tree had its wind coming from the west.
“This tree has been in this hollow right here,” Roberts said. “The wind that we had from the storm came right through the slot and channeled through here.”
The tree was so big that when it came down it also took out part of a pecan tree and stripped limbs and bark off a pine tree. The only structural damage the tree caused was to a dog pen, which was in a neighbor’s yard.
Fortunately, there were no dogs in the pen at the time.
“The tenants of the house had gotten his two dogs out of the pin about 5-10 minutes before the tree fell,” Roberts said.
The tree was not hollow throughout its trunk. It was still a healthy tree and could have seen many more years of life if not for that severe thunderstorm with its strong westerly winds.
“It is not as hollow as it looks like,” Roberts said. “All of the internal wood pulled out. It left the shell and pulled the wood out of it. All of the bottom area was hollow.”
For Mrs. Roberts, she is going to miss the tree this summer and the shade it was going to provide. She loves having trees in her yard.
“It was a beautiful tree,” Mrs. Roberts said. “It shaded so much of the yard. We moved here in 1972 and we planted some trees on the property in 1974. But I knew someday this tree could come down in a storm. It was really tall and had such big limbs on it. Now the tree is in three yards.”
The tree will not go to waste as a family member will use the wood from it this winter for heat.