Brookfield lost a village landmark when a strong storm whipped through the area on the evening of June 21.
Among the many trees damaged by wind gusts estimated at up to 75 mph was the Constitution Oak in Kiwanis Park. Dubbed “Brookfield’s oldest living resident” in a 2005 Landmark story by local historian Chris Stach, the tree was estimated to be between 320 and 350 years old. It was more than 112 inches in circumference and perhaps 120 feet tall.
“Did the tree predate the Constitution?” asked Stach in his piece. (Click here to read the story)
“Absolutely. In fact, it was growing before the Revolutionary War, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and even before George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and all our nation’s forefathers and foremothers were born. Indians looked upon this tree. Perhaps even the 17th-century French explorers Pere Marquette and Louis Joliet glanced at it during their travels.”
According to Stach, it was the first tree in Illinois officially recognized as dating from at least 1787, when the Founding Fathers signed the U.S. Constitution. In 1987, on the occasion of the constitution’s bicentennial, the International Society of Arboriculture announced it would provide commemorative plaques to any municipality that could prove it had a tree within its border that was at least 200 years old.
While it was determined that several trees in the village were at least 200 years old, the towering white oak in Kiwanis Park was determined to be between 300 and 320 years old in 1987.
The village dedicated the tree as its Constitution Oak and built a 17-foot square wood frame around the base of the tree. Still facing west is the small, red granite marker proclaiming the tree’s historic heritage, as certified by the National Arborist Association and the International Society of Arboriculture, and recognizing “this significant tree in this bicentennial year as having lived here at the time of the signing of our constitution.”
In recent years, the tree had begun showing some signs of distress, said Brookfield Public Works Superintendent Al Kitzer. An inspection of the tree after the storm showed that the center of the lower trunk had been eaten away by insects. Still, the oak proved remarkably resilient.
“There was some decay, but it took a pretty good storm to take it down,” Kitzer said.