Throughout American history when farmers settled on a plot of land and built their first structure it was their barn. The barn represented animals and the farmer’s income and livelihood. The settlers would live in the barn until they could build their house (hence the question were you born I a barn?). In the early United States oak was the most common tree to find and as such many lots were cleared of both white oak and red oak to build barns and because of its quantity and quality oak is a popular choice amongst our customers today for reclaimed wood.
Today we’re going to tell you a little bit the white oak (quercus alba). This species is native to North America and can be found from the Great Lakes on down to the Gulf of Mexico in the eastern part of the United States and Canada. Despite being known as a white oak the tree bark is mostly a grayish color. The tallest known white oak grew to be 144 feet tall though most grow to 80-100 feet. The tree itself can live 200-350 years with the oldest known specimen, the Wye Oak in Maryland living to an estimated 450 years and it is believed there is one in New Jersey that is even older!
The trees can grow in nearly any climate in the eastern half of the U.S. and can survive at almost a mile in altitude in any environment except an urban environment because the root system simply gets too big. The acorns produced by the trees are a favorite of many forest animals. It’s wood is a favorite for wine and whiskey barrel makers (bourbon is actually required by law to be aged in a virgin white oak barrel). It was also the wood of choice for the U.S. Navy in its early days when they built the famous warship Old Ironsides, the U.S.S. Constitution and her sister ship the U.S.S. Constellation.
The tree is the state tree of Illinois, Connecticut, and Maryland. An American oak, the Charter Oak in Hartford, is featured on the reverse side of the Connecticut state quarter. This oak, after blowing down in 1856 was crafted into several chairs in the Connecticut State House as well as the desks of the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, and the Governor of Connecticut. Quite a tree!