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Oldest Red Oak in N.E. Tennessee located in Mountain City

Gates Mondovics, 28, poses for a photo with a Red Oak tree estimated to be nearly 320 years old, taking its rightful place at Cunningham Park in the heart of Mountain City, TN. Experts say the “Big Tree” could actually be the oldest in all of Tennessee. Photo by Tamas Mondovics

Submitted by Dr. Richard A. Wolfe, Ph.D.

For nearly 320 years, it has stood strong, withstanding storms, droughts, floods, early settlers to these mountains, and the progress of humankind. That is the Mountain City Red Oak Tree located in the city’s Cunningham Park. Estimated to be between 290 and 340 years old, locals know it as “The Big Tree.” It stands alone in the park for all to see. But seldom do we realize that we are living among a historical artifact that dates back to the time before Daniel Boone was even born in 1734, or this area was ever explored except for the different Indian tribes that used this area as their hunting grounds.

At 320 years old, this tree was born around 1700 and a time before the first settlers ever came to this area in the 1770s and located at what was then called “The Trade Gap,” now Trade, TN, which was a trading post for Indians and white traders and trappers.One of the major questions is how one determines the age of a living tree.

The formulation, typically as described on the internet, is first to measure the circumference of the tree about 4.5 feet above the ground level of the tree. The mighty circumference of this tree is 21 feet and 9 inches that equates to 261 inches. And now, using elementary math to determine the diameter from the circumference, the diameter of this tree is about 83 inches.

Each type of tree has a different growth factor and the red oak tree, as reported in various books, has a growth factor ranging between 3.5 and 4.1. By multiplying the diameter of this tree by 83 inches by its growth factor, this magnificent Red Oak Tree has an age ranging from about 290 years to 340 years with an estimated average age of about 320 years, thus making its birth somewhere around 1700.

To verify some of my observations and calculations of this being possibly the oldest Red Oak tree in the Northeastern part of Tennessee, I contacted Mr. Billy Ward, the Extension Agent of Agriculture and Natural Resources located at the UT/TSU Extension Office for Johnson County.

Mr. Ward was well aware of this beautiful Red Oak Tree in Mountain City and so was his contact with the Tree Specialist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. They both supported this article being published, which could be about the oldest Red Oak tree in all of Tennessee. So, it could be true that we have a beautiful giant tree living among us here in Mountain City, Tennessee, that was born about 1700 with such historical significance.