- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

BERNARDS, N.J. (AP) - The final sections of a 600-year-old white oak tree that’s believed to be among the oldest in the nation were taken down Wednesday at a New Jersey church.

Roughly 50 people were on hand at the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church in Bernards as the work was completed, and many of them clapped and cheered as the tree’s large stump was pulled out and the church’s bells rang. It was later chained down on a large flatbed truck, which was taking it to an undisclosed location.

The removal process had started Monday, but no work was performed Tuesday due to heavy rain and winds. The crews returned to work around dawn Wednesday and worked throughout the day to complete the job.

The tree has been an important part of the bedroom community, located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of New York, since the town’s inception in the 1700s. Officials say Gen. George Washington held a picnic near the tree with Marquis de Lafayette, and the Rev. George Whitefield, a noted evangelist, preached to more than 3,000 people beneath it in 1740.

The tree was declared dead after it began showing rot and weakness during the last couple of years.

Arborists say the tree stood for nearly 300 years before the church was built in 1717. It stood about 100 feet tall, had a trunk circumference of 18 feet and a branch spread of roughly 150 feet. Its death was likely due to its age.

But there is a silver lining for tree fans: Another white oak cultivated from the old tree’s acorns was recently planted at the church, so its legacy will continue at the church.

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