Searching for 1971 Champions

Featured

In 1971, in commemoration of Royal Oak celebrating its Golden Jubilee–the 50th anniversary of its incorporation as a city–historian Owens Perkins published Royal Oak, Michigan: The Early Years (Royal Oak Historical Society, 1974). In his preface to the book, making his case that trees have been an integral facet of the city’s identity from the beginning, Perkins mentions four specific oak trees. These four oaks, at the time, were the oaks that had the widest crown or the largest diameter trunk, or had been identified as the tallest or the “all-around champion” based on the “forestry formula.” Perkins included photos of three of these four champion oaks in his book’s preface.

Friday, I set out to see if any of Royal Oak’s champion oaks of 1971 were still standing.

It’s easy to surmise that the tree with the trunk of the biggest girth–a 166-inch circumference and a calculated diameter of 4 feet and 4 inches–at 223 Dewey St. in 1971 has since been removed in order for a detached garage to be built. This is what the tree looked like in 1971:

From Royal Oak, Michigan: The Early Years by Owen A. Perkins (Royal Oak Nature Society, 1974) p. x. The backyard at this address is now the site of a detached garage.

Where the widest spreading oak tree–at 110 feet–was located in 1971, today is the Borgo Sisters School of Dance parking lot:

From Royal Oak, Michigan: The Early Years by Owen A. Perkins (Royal Oak Nature Society, 1974) p. xi, now the site of the Borgo Sisters School of Dance parking lot.

It’s harder to say if the tallest oak in Elk’s Park today is the 1971 Champion, the tallest Royal Oak oak. I found another book in the library–Royal Oak: Our Living Legend, 1787-1940 by Constance Kingan Crossman (School District of the City of Royal Oak, 1973) that describes the location of this oak more succinctly than Perkin’s book, which showed no photo of this tree and just gave its description as: “the tallest [oak] is a 96.3 foot tree in Elks Park.” Crossman’s description reads: “The tallest tree in the city is on the northeast side of the Elks Park Golf Course facing Rosewold Avenue, just off Normandy Road.” I can find no evidence that Elks Park was once a golf course, but if the tallest oak was on the northeast side of Elks Park, it’s not the one I found Friday. The oak in the photo below, while the tallest oak currently in the park, is midway on the west side of the park.

The tallest oak in Elks Park today stands on the west border, midway in the park. The standard utility pole is 40 feet and can be buried up to 6 feet. Given that measurement to use as a guide, I suspect the oak pictured above, the second to the right of the utility pole, might not quite measure 90 feet today, so while tall, is most likely it is not the 96.3-foot champion of 1971.

However, I was happy to discover and am excited to report, the All-Around Champion of 1971 is still standing on E. Lasalle! Although some lower limbs have been trimmed, you can see the resemblance between the tree’s habit in 1971 (from Perkin’s preface) and on May 3, 2019 below.

Nice to know that one out of the four 1971 Oak Tree Champions is still standing today, 48 years later. I am curious about what Royal Oak trees, oak or otherwise, might be labeled champions today.