Avery Oak

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The home of William Avery, and the Avery Oak.

The Old Avery Oak Tree was a white oak tree that stood in Dedham, Massachusetts until it was knocked down in 1972. It had a circumference of over 16 ft (5 m) and stood on East Street near the Fairbanks House. It was named for Jonathan Avery, the owner of the tree, who had an estate that was bounded roughly by East Street, Mt. Vernon Street, Barrows Street, and Brookdale Avenue.[1] The Avery family was one of the early settlers of Dedham, arriving in 1650.[1]

In the terrible winter of 1723, when the snow lay so thick over the landscape that the residents could not access their woodlot, another Avery chopped off the top of the tree to keep his family from freezing.[2] By the 1790s, the Avery Oak’s gnarled and crooked branches spread more than 90 feet from a trunk five feet in diameter.[2]

It withstood the New England Hurricane of 1938, although it was struck by lightning.[3] The primeval tree predated the town, which was incorporated in 1636.[1] It was owned by the Dedham Historical Society after being donated by J.W. Clark in 1886.[1][4]

The tree lived until 1973, when a strong thunderstorm toppled it.[2] Today, wood from the tree is used in the Town Meeting Moderator's gavel.

USS Constitution[edit]

Samuel Nicholson, the first captain of the Constitution, was living in Dedham at the time the ship was being built.[1] The Avery Oak at that time had limbs full of crooks and angles, which Lord Bacon called knee timber, and which was particularly required in ship building.[1] Its massive trunk would also have yielded a good quantity of planking.[1]

Designer Joshua Humphreys specified white oak for the hull of the USS Constitution.[2] Timber merchants from New Jersey to Maine scrambled to find old growth trees that had the straight trunks needed to cut long runs of plank, but also crooks and bends that could supply the hundreds of hanging, standing, and lodging knees needed to support deck beams.[2]

The ship builders, presumably Nicholson, made several offers to buy the tree, eventually rising to "the unheard of price of $70," but the owner would not sell.[1][5][6] Local legend contends that it was Avery's wife who spared the tree.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Worthington, Erastus (January 1898). "The Frigate Constitution and the Avery Oak". The Dedham Historical Register IX (1): 1–5. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "A Tree Grows in Dedham". USS Constitution Museum. April 24, 2013. Retrieved October 1, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Thunderstorm Damanges Old Oak Tree in Dedham, Mass.". Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, Illinois). 26 July 1972. p. 28 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
  4. ^ "Curious Condensations". Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Pittsburg Dispatch. September 1, 1889 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
  5. ^ "Famous Trees". The Minneapolis Journal (Minneapolis, Minnesota). October 15, 1905 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
  6. ^ Guide Book To New England Travel. 1919.