WILMINGTON — The big red oak tree in front of the Clinton County Courthouse that was damaged by a recent ice storm — and will have to come down — evidently has some quite historic roots.
Three stories written by courthouse landscaping planner Howard Collett in the Wilmington News-Journal in 1929, 1932 and 1938 — and apparently about the tree in question — states it descended from an oak tree at the Mount Vernon, Virginia property of George Washington.
The courthouse tree’s story begins with a fallen acorn found in the 1890s under an oak tree near Washington’s tomb by then-former Wilmington resident Clint Jones. The acorn later was planted off West Locust Street in Wilmington when Jones returned and visited with Frank Richardson. Over time, the acorn sprouted and grew into a tree.
Later, Trebor Weltz gathered several acorns from under the West Locust Street oak tree and planted them in the local Weltz nursery.
Collett wrote, “In 1919, I drew a planting plan for the landscaping of the Courthouse grounds, under the direction of Fred Weltz and we planned for one of these oaks to be placed in the most conspicuous part of the 57 varieties of shrubbery.”
In the spring of 1920, a “Washington Oak” from the nursery was placed in the northwest corner of Courthouse Square as part of the landscaping around the newly built Clinton County Courthouse.
By 1938, Collett wrote that the oak tree on the courthouse grounds “is about 12 inches in diameter and about 25 feet high. It is in healthy condition. It should be known as the ‘George and Martha Washington Oak’.”
The published reports from Collett are not the only mention in the Wilmington News-Journal — nor the earliest — of the courthouse oak tree’s Mount Vernon genealogy.
Earlier, in the May 14, 1921 Wilmington News-Journal, Dusty Miller wrote about the then “small red oak tree” on the courthouse lawn.
“No, it didn’t come over in the Mayflower and its great-grandmother wasn’t carried as an acorn by an English sparrow from the rainspout on the ark, but it’s something like that,” Miller wrote.
He recounted that an acorn from Mount Vernon was brought to Wilmington, and like Collett, said the Mount Vernon acorn was planted and grew on Frank Richardson’s property.
“And in time this tree had little acorns of its own, and one of these second-generation acorns was planted and there you are,” wrote Miller.