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Battle Creek's Ancient White Oak Flourishes


This story in the Battle Creek Enquirer features work done by Davey Tree in the 1920s. The tree — a massive white oak — still stands today.


By Holly Deal for the Enquirer

A white oak tree has stood sentry in Battle Creek since before the earliest European explorers stepped foot on Michigan soil or traveled its lakes.

The tree, cored by the Battle Creek Garden Club, is estimated to have begun its growth in 1547.

This white oak tree has been mentioned in Battle Creek history books and has been featured for generations in photos taken of the area.

One local historian's 1932 photograph of the tree can be seen in Willard Library in Battle Creek.

The historian, E.W. Roberts, took thousands of photos that year, including one of the Irving Park tree, said George Livingston, local and family history librarian at the Helen Warner branch of Willard Library.


"This is the oldest tree we know of around Battle Creek,” according to Roberts' annotation to the photo. “It is in Irving Park across from Leila Hospital. It is 5 feet through at the base, over 300 years old, and very symmetrical and finely formed. What tales it could tell, if it could speak, of the many changes which have ebbed and flowed around it."

An old clip from the Battle Creek Moon Journal dating Aug. 22, 1934, describes dedication ceremonies held to celebrate a plaque placed in front of the oak tree the day before.

“‘We are not sure about the exact age of this monarch of the forest primeval,’ said Mrs. [Charles E.] Kolb, ‘but we are sure that it began its growth about the year 1547, which would make it around 387 years old. It was 73 years old when the Pilgrims landed ...,’” according to the clip.

Kolb was chairman of the Battle Creek Garden Club’s Tree Study group, which placed a plaque in front of the tree.

Seven years before the dedication, Battle Creek’s mayor, John Bailey, became interested in the tree when the estimated age of the tree was determined. He had the Davey tree surgeons repair a wound in its side, according to the news story.

The story goes on to state, "Since then it has been struck by lightning once, leaving evidence of the bolt, but it stands a mighty giant among trees of this so-called City of Trees."

The tree has miraculously been left standing after many of its generation had been chopped down to make room for humanity.

"It hasn't been chopped down, it hasn't been damaged by construction or water pollution," said Phil Lahr, operations supervisor for streets and parks in Battle Creek.

He said West Emmett Street had been re-done recently to put in a new curb and construction workers were careful to dig around the tree and its root system so as not to damage it.

Lahr said he enjoys seeing old trees in Battle Creek.

"It's a gorgeous tree. It's what an oak tree should look like," he said. "Seeing it makes me feel younger."

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