If you’re new to Connecticut, you may not know about our charter oak. They don’t teach state history in school — I don’t think so, anyway — and most of the state quarters that were minted nearly 20 years ago are out of circulation.
But longtime residents know the charter oak. And one of its descendants may still live in Westport.
The story involves a large white oak tree that dates back to the 12th or 13th century. Apparently our royal charter — given by King Charles in 1662, to the Connecticut colony — was hidden in a hollow in 1687, to prevent the governor-general from revoking it.
The tree was destroyed in 1856, during a strong storm. But its legend remains.
So, supposedly, do many of its seedlings.
In 1965, a “Committee for the location and care of the Charter Oak Tree” was formed. Its purpose was to “accept the seedling descendant of the Charter Oak from Mr. John Davis Lodge, care for it during the winter, select a location in which it can be planted in the Spring, and organize a planting ceremony.”
Lodge — a former governor of Connecticut and ambassador to Spain, and future ambassador to Argentina and Switzerland — lived in Westport.
Minutes of a November 20, 1965 meeting show that a seedling was intended to be donated to Staples High School in the spring.
Legend has it that the seedling was planted in the school courtyard on North Avenue. No one today knows authoritatively if that was done, or exactly where. If it ever existed, it was bulldozed away during construction of the new building more than a decade ago.
The committee also discussed the best location for another seedling, downtown. Members — including representatives of the RTM, Westport Garden Club, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Daughters of the American Revolution — agreed that Jesup Green was the best area. It could be “the first step in setting a centrally located civic center.”
Discussion then turned to the erection of a plaque, commemorating the gift to the town by Lodge.
“It was agreed that watering and care after the planting should be delegated to a Town employee who would be responsible for its care,” meeting notes read.
Arbor Day in April was suggested as a good time for the planting, and that school children should be involved.
The committee then went outdoors to study possible locations. They agreed to store the 2 seedling oaks in the “cold barn cellar” of Parsell’s Nursery. Garden center owner and civic volunteer Alan U. Parsell was a committee member.
And that’s the last bit of information I dug up about Westport’s charter oak.