A sycamore tree that was fully grown when George Washington and his men held a council of war in the house it shaded now faces the end of its long life.
The tree, which stands outside the historic Hale-Byrnes House in Newark, is almost completely rotted out.
Some fear it will collapse on the house at which Washington met on Sept. 6, 1777 to hold a council of war. The home then was owned by Daniel Byrnes, a Quaker miller who bought and sold much of the land in Newark.
“In the summer, it’s about 10 degrees cooler under the tree than it is in the house,” said Kim Burdick, resident manager and historian at the Hale-Byrnes house. “It’s very likely that they all spent time under the tree to get away from the heat.”
Burdick estimated that the tree is 300 years old, if not more.
Every year, she goes to Yorktown and there’s usually a huge storm that blows through Delaware during that time, she said.
“We’re shocked to come back and find that the tree is still there,” she said.
The house brings in a horticulturalist every year to check the tree out.
“They’ve said that as long as the sycamore still gets a full canopy of leaves it’ll be fine,” said Burdick. “And so far, it’s still been getting its canopy.”
Cutting down the tree has been brought up multiple times, she said, but so far has been shot down by public outcry.
“We just hope that if it falls, it doesn’t fall on the house,” Burdick said.
In case the tree does soon fall, The Byrnes House is working with Pamela White, a Revolutionary War artist, to paint the event that took place at the Byrnes house, as well as the house and the tree.
To do that, it’s trying to raise $5,000 to pay White’s commission.
Prints of the painting will be available for purchase, and the original will hang in the Byrnes House.
“Another thing that has been talked about is making things out of the tree’s wood once it falls,” Burdick said, “but we really don’t know how good a condition the wood is in.”
Burdick said that it’s likely that any objects made from the tree would be auctioned off.
While the house is open in spring and summer, it closes the first weekend of December and will not open again until the first week of April.
For more: A brief history on the house written by Burdick can be found here. To help raise money for the painting, send checks to Hale-Byrnes House, 606 Stanton Christiana Rd, Newark 19713.