12/3/2015 - Canton's Constitution Oak
Celebrating Canton’s Constitution Oak
David K. Leff, Canton Town Historian, 12-3-15
New Recognition for an Old Tree
With a plaque memorializing its Constitution Oak, Canton reclaims a forgotten part of its history. It’s a small sign that that goes a long way toward reminding contemporary citizens that we are part of a proud past. Our town’s heritage plays a major role in joining us together as a community. Our past helps us know who we are today. But history not only helps us understand the present, it enables us to anticipate and better deal with the future.
Because it is unmarked and on private property, few people know that Canton’s Constitution Oak is located in front of a dentist’s office at 66 Maple Avenue where many residents see it frequently from behind their windshield. The tree is obvious, but its historic significance has long been hidden.
Although trees have been planted as memorials for ages, this pin oak (Quercus palustris) was part of Connecticut’s first mass commemorative tree distribution. The tree is among 168 pin oaks distributed to each delegate at the state constitutional convention in 1902. A 2002 survey by Glenn Dreyer of the Connecticut Botanical Society found only 74 of the trees still alive. Among them are ones in the nearby towns of Avon, Simsbury and Farmington.
The convention dealt primarily with legislative representation. However imperfect by today’s standards, the delegates recommended that General Assembly seats be somewhat based on population, rather than by town, a system in which Union with a population or around 1,000 had the same number of representatives as New Haven which had 100 times the population. Unfortunately, the convention wound up achieving nothing after its hard fought recommendations were defeated by voters. Thus, the trees remain not only the most long lasting accomplishment of the meetings, but, perhaps, the only one.
When the tree came to town in 1902, the property was owned by Albert Williams, a long time Collinsville dealer in flour, feed, grain and coal, who passed away four years after the sapling was planted. Perhaps he was a friend of Canton delegate and Collins Company President Edward H. Sears. The tree is in remarkably good health considering it is just a few feet from the road. It’s about 90 feet tall with a long, straight trunk and is over 100 inches in circumference at breast height. With care, its beauty (and unusual story) will be enjoyed for generations to come.