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  • Writer's pictureThe Hammonton Gazette

Historic Preservation Commission awarded grant for Salem Oak

courtesy photo

The Hammonton Historic Preservation Commission has been awarded a Preservation grant to prepare for the planting and dedication of Hammonton’s Salem Oak sapling. The sapling, which was provided for free to the town of Hammonton by the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, has been growing (from six inches in 2019 to over six feet today) in the town’s innovative Tree Bank, located at the Department of Public Works (DPW) on South Egg Harbor Road. The town’s Environmental Commission selected Oak Grove Cemetery as the planting site, and Scott Rivera, Public Works Director, and his crew will plant the tree at Oak Grove Cemetery on Arbor Day, April 26. The dedication of the tree will take place in October on a date to be decided.

This grant has been made possible in part by the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division within the N.J. Department of State, through funds administered by the Atlantic County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs. Other funding is being provided by the Hammonton Historical Preservation Commission and the Hammonton Environmental Commission. Generous in-kind contributions will be made by the Oak Grove Cemetery, the EB Fence Company, LLC and the Michelini Family.

The Salem Oak had been one of the state’s best known and most celebrated trees because of its size, age and role in New Jersey’s history. The tree was the sole survivor of the original forest that covered the land when Quaker John Fenwick founded Salem in 1675. According to legend, Fenwick met with members of the Lenni Lenape Nation and signed a peace treaty (one that was never broken) under the shade and comfort of the mighty oak.

In 2019, the tree finally collapsed, having graced this planet for nearly 600 years. Prior to the tree’s collapse, the Department of Environmental Protection had the foresight to collect acorns from the tree and grew seedlings, eventually distributing them to each of the state’s 564 municipalities. After receiving its seedling, Hammonton quickly placed it in the care of the DPW’s Tree Bank operation, while the town’s Environmental Commission conducted a search for the best place to plant the tree, whose mother tree towered at 103 feet, had a circumference of some 22 feet and a canopy spread of 104 feet. After considering several sites, the Commission recommended to town council that the privilege of hosting the tree should be awarded to Oak Grove Cemetery, which council accepted unanimously.

Angela Donio, Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, commented on the award: “We are very thankful to the Atlantic County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs for this grant, which will allow us to showcase the history of both the Salem Oak and our own Atlantic County treasure, the Oak Grove Cemetery, which is older than the Town of Hammonton. We hope everyone will come out to celebrate our history and our heritage when we dedicate this tree in October.”

The Commission will use the grant funds and other contributions to design and install an interpretive station explaining the significance of both the tree and the cemetery in English and Spanish, a related online expanded explanation accessed via a QR code, a protective fence and a formal dedication ceremony in October with representation from area Native Americans and other community dignitaries.

The Hammonton Historic Preservation Commission’s mission is to highlight and work to preserve historic structures within the town of Hammonton, educate the public about these historic landmarks and to advise the Land Use Board regarding the preservation of historically significant buildings and other structures. They meet on the fourth Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. in town hall. They actively encourage all residents of town to participate and bring their questions and suggestions to each meeting.


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