Wolcott Historical Society History for November 2014
By Florence Goodman
"What is that tree on Spindle Hill Road with the wooden railings around it?" "Is it the Charter Oak?" "No, then what is it?" "Why was it planted there?" This month I will revisit a previous topic I discussed in 2008 and 2009, the Constitutional Oak or as some towns call it the Constitution Oak Tree. Many of our residents still don't know the story behind it or where it is located, so I hope this will answer those questions.
The story of our Constitutional Oak tree begins in October of 1901, when a vote was taken to hold a Constitutional Convention in Hartford. The purpose of the convention was to make revisions to the existing constitution of our state, which had not been done since 1818. Anticipating the passing of these revisions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture presented each of the 168 delegates at the convention with a pin oak tree seedling in spring of 1902 to commemorate the occasion. The delegates were asked to plant the trees in their hometowns on or near a public place or on the green. They were to be known as "Constitutional Oaks" as memorials to the expected new state Constitution. Although the electors voted to hold the convention, the revisions were never passed, but the delegates went home with their souvenirs of this historic meeting- their "little pin oak trees."
Our Constitutional Oak was planted on Spindle Hill Road on the property that was then owned by Mr. Evelyn Upson, who was the delegate from Wolcott to the Constitutional Convention. In 1902 Mr. Upson planted the pin oak seedling on his property so that he could maintain it while it was young. It was his intent to eventually transplant the tree to the Town Green, but the transplanting never occurred. Thus after 112 years, the tree continues to grow on the side of Spindle Hill Road across from the James Alcott homestead. When Mr. Upson died in 1918, the property was sold to Carl and Helma Peterson who used the land as a dairy farm until 1962 when a fire destroyed a large barn on the property. Amazingly the fire did not hurt the Constitutional Oak tree, which was located very close to the old barn.
Over the years this wonderful old tree has withstood the forces of nature and continued to grow. Although this tree was protected and maintained by the property owners and the Wolcott Historical Society, it needed some tender loving care. In 2009 Joe Milton asked if he could clean up the area around the Constitutional Oak Tree as an Eagle Scout Project. He wanted to protect it from being mistakenly cut down during yearly pruning by the power company. He also hoped that this would help people driving by to easily identify this famous tree. Joe's project was quite an undertaking since the area around the tree was overgrown with poison ivy and other weeds. Joe and his team were able to clean the area and put down fabric and gravel to keep out weeds. They built a fence around the tree and used the rocks from an old foundation and stonewall to enhance it. They added a beautiful granite bench donated by Burton's Monuments of Meriden Road. The bench has a brief history of the tree engraved on it. Joe and his team of scouts did a wonderful job; it was greatly appreciated and still looks great.
Recently the Wolcott Historical Society placed a hand-painted sign along the railing that surrounds the tree identifying it as, the "Constitution Oak, 1902." Now when motorists, bikers, or hikers pass by this majestic tree, it can be easily identified.
Bonnie Hartigan, who lives in the 1774 historic home across from the tree, still owns and maintains the property where the tree stands. If by chance you come to the intersection of Mad River and Spindle Hill Roads, look across the street from the James Alcott homestead (a dark blue saltbox) and you will see our Constitutional Oak tree.
(Information for this article was taken from photographs from Clarence Atwood, History of the Town of Wolcott, Connecticut from 1731 to 1874 by Samuel Orcutt, and an article from the from The Waterbury American, Tuesday, January 16, 1962.)
Alcott Upson Peterson Barn.
New Constitutional Oak Sign.
James Alcott House.
Constitutional Oak Plaque.
Constitutional Oak Bench.
Alcott Upson Peterson House and Barn.
To view past installments of the Wolcott Historical Society News, click here.