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Take a Walk Through History at Union College’s Historic Tree Grove

Cranford, NJ – George Washington may have chopped down a cherry tree, but did you know that a descendent tree from George Washington’s Mount Vernon Red Maple tree has made its way to Union College of Union County, New Jersey? Join Dr. Thomas Ombrello, a Senior Professor in Biology at Union, for a walk through the College’s historic tree grove at the Cranford Campus on September 18. The walk will begin at 2 PM, and includes descendent trees from George Washington’s home, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and more.

In 1995, Dr. Ombrello established Union’s tree grove, with 40 saplings near the William Sperry Observatory with descendants of trees noteworthy in American history. He began this project in the early 1990s, with many notable trees in American history being lost to old age, diseases, insects, storm damage, or neglect. Currently, there are over 70 trees in the grove.

“My son was living in lower Manhattan on 9-11. Months later, stories started to appear of nearby trees surviving the catastrophe. I asked him to visit some of these survivors and he collected a few spherical fruits from the American Sycamores and gave them to me,” states Dr. Ombrello. “I will never forget separating the seeds out, encountering all of the gray dust that coated them.”

In April 2022, Dr. Ombrello planted the most recent sapling in the grove. The seedlings were from a European Copper Beech in Morris County. Some of the trees descend from famous historical figures, such as John Paul Jones, Helen Keller, and Edgar Allen Poe.

“As New Jersey’s first community college, we are thrilled to have Dr. Ombrello add to Union’s robust history with notable tree descendants from American history” states Union President Dr. Margaret M. McMenamin. “We are proud of the work he has put into the grove and look forward to seeing what tree will come next.”  

As part of the original project in 1997, Dr. Ombrello published a book with information on the 40 original trees. It has been updated to include the now 76 trees in the grove. For a copy of the booklet, reach out to Dr. Ombrello at ombrello@ucc.edu.

The guided walk through the tree grove is free and open to the public but limited to 50 participants. If interested in partaking in a journey through history, please reach out to Dr. Ombrello to RSVP at ombrello@ucc.edu.