Sara Swanson

A slice of history at the Blacksmith Shop – a round from the Manchester oak that witnessed 275 years of history

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Slice of a Bur Oak tree that stood in Manchester Township for 275 years and was cut down in 2011, will be on display this weekend at the Blacksmith Shop. Photo courtesy of Sybil Kolon.

Submitted by Sybil Kolon

On Saturday, August 5, from noon to 4 PM, the Blacksmith Shop will be open for blacksmithing demonstrations as part of the Sesquicentennial Arts Walk. There will be a new addition on display, a slice (known as a cookie or round) from the West Austin Road Bur Oak that once graced the north edge of Austin Road at the western border of Manchester Township.

This round is one of seven that were saved so the Oak could tell its story, or at least allow those who pass by a chance to wonder at what this tree might have seen after it sprouted in about 1735. The rings from a different round were counted at the Michigan State University Dendrochronology Lab, by Dr. Sophan Chhin. That piece was cut from six feet above ground, confirming how old the Oak was when it reached that height in 1749. This round previously grew about ten feet above the ground.

The Oak was cut down in 2011 after being hit by a car the year before. The Oak had previously been saved from such fate in 1985, when about 100 people came to the tree’s defense at a public meeting at the Manchester Township Hall. No such public outcry happened this time.

The crash started a fire that burned up one side of the tree. The Oak leafed out just fine in April 2011, but its fate was sealed. After it was cut down, it was clear the fire barely penetrated the bark. This round was presented to the Manchester Area Historical Society. It has now been sanded. The year of Manchester’s founding, 1867, is marked on the round, showing the trunk was then nearly two feet in diameter.

This will be the first of many opportunities to view this slice of history. Plans are in the works to improve the display, including marking ten-year intervals on the slice. There is much variation in the width of the rings. The dust bowl years are easily seen. At other times, the rings show very strong growth that can be attributed to its large crown.

Early accounts of Southern Michigan describe vast, park-like settings of grasses, wildflowers and scattered oaks known as Oak Openings. Because they were relatively free of trees and had fertile soils, these prairies were among the first areas converted to agriculture. Ecologists consider this highly evolved habitat among the most endangered ecosystems on earth. Today, large diameter, open-grown oaks are among the last vestiges of a striking landscape that once characterized pre-settlement Michigan.

Growing recognition of the aesthetic and inherent value of prairies and savannas makes their restoration a priority for land managers through-out their range. Restoration typically focuses on four strategies: prescribed fire, restoring hydrology, controlling invasive species and prairie planting.

Other rounds from the Oak are displayed at YMCA Storer Camps near Napoleon, DNR Walker Tavern Historic Site (M-50 south of Brooklyn) and the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit. Hidden Lake Gardens and Camp Dainava (who allowed for the slices to be cut from the Oak on their property) have their own rounds.

The Manchester Area Historical Society hopes you will stop by to see the slice, as well as all the other items and activities going on at the Blacksmith Shop this Saturday!

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