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Historic Oak Tree in Bala Cynwyd Dates Back to the American Revolutionary Era

Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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Historic Oak Tree ("Penn Tree") Predating the American Revolution, 401 City Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

On the grounds of the office building at 401 City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd (the former site of the Marriott Motor Inn on City Line Avenue), there is an historic overcup oak tree that has lived there for more than 300 years. The tree has historical significance and to that end, arborists have listed the oak tree as a "Penn Tree," which means that it was alive before William Penn visited the area.

Historic Oak Tree ("Penn Tree") Predating the American Revolution, 401 City Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

In 1976, when the Marriott Motor Inn occupied the site, the International Society of Arboriculture and the National Arborist Association jointly recognized this significant tree in the Bicentennial Year as having lived here during the American Revolutionary period (1776-1976) when The Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States were drafted in Philadelphia.

Historic Oak Tree ("Penn Tree") Predating the American Revolution, 401 City Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

Back in the 1970s, the tree provided great shade to the outdoor playground area towards the back of the Marriott hotel. Today, the historic tree is located in the rear of the parking lot of the 401 City (Line) Avenue building, and its GPS coordinates are: 40°00'34.8"N 75°12'53.3"W . The tree is listed on the Pennsylvania Champion Tree Registry, an inventory of the largest trees in each species around the state.

401 City Avenue is the current home of various businesses including SIG (Susquehanna International Group) which is a global quantitative trading firm founded with an entrepreneurial mindset and a rigorous analytical approach to decision making. On December 27, 2018, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that SIG would like to take down the historic oak tree as part of their development plans to build a new office complex and parking garage where the tree has been living for 300+ years. According to the Inquirer's article, "In Bala Cynwyd, a centuries-old tree could be cut down - for an office building."

"Researchers estimate that the tree is more than 300 years old. It’s thought to have been alive before Penn first visited the green colony he would dub 'Penn’s woods.' Drawing from its history, arborists have categorized the oak as a “Penn tree." It is listed in the 1981 book Penn’s Woods, which indexed dozens of the oldest trees in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The over-cup oak along City Avenue is one of an estimated 300 Penn trees still alive."

Various environmental groups, arborists, historians, neighbors and activists would like to see the historic tree dating back to the time of America's Founding Fathers preserved in some manner in the plans for SIG's new office complex.

The historic oak tree was last measured in 2017, and at that time, its trunk had a circumference of about 18 feet, and its branches spanned 117 feet, according to the registry. 

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