LHT Historic Site – Brearley Oak
No one knows for sure the age of the Brearley Oak. With a trunk circumference of 258 inches, a height of 110 feet, and a crown of 148 feet (as measured in 2019), estimates of its age are anywhere from 255 to 410 years old. This magnificent tree is an eastern black oak (Quercus velutina), and by far the largest and oldest of its kind in the State of New Jersey. Imagine what this tree has witnessed standing here by the Princeton Pike. It was at this spot when English colonists began cultivating the land and it would have seen the first horse-drawn stagecoaches speeding up and down the pike between Trenton and Princeton. Over time came automobiles and eventually an interstate highway and modern office buildings. Through it all, the oak has stood sturdy, strong and silent.
The Brearley Oak is named for the Brearley family. John Brearley (1645-c1720), an English colonist, settled near here in 1690. His descendants were prominent members of Lawrence Township society for nearly 200 Years.
David Brearley, Jr. (Trenton Free Public Library)
David Brearley, Jr. (1745-1790), shown here, was a Revolutionary War hero, Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court and one of New Jersey’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was born just across Lewisville Road at Spring Grove Farm. Visit the nearby 1761 Brearley House, home of the Lawrence Historical Society, to learn more about the Brearleys and the township’s early history.
The survival of the Brearley Oak has depended on many owners over the years. After the Brearleys, the oak stood on the farm of William Grover, illustrated here by a detail from a Mercer County atlas of 1849.
J.W. Otley and J. Keily, Map of Mercer County, New Jersey, 1849.
Mercer County 1849
Bristol Myers Squibb now owns the land and tends to the tree with the help of professional arborists.
Native American and European traditions recognize giant oak trees as important gathering places.
Mercer Oak, circa 1990.
Looking at the Brearley Oak, it’s easy to understand why the shelter and shade offered by an ancient oak tree made for a very appealing outdoor meeting space. Many cultures believe oaks to be sacred. The trees symbolize strength, wisdom and nobility.
The Mercer Oak (featured on the sign), a large white oak tree that stood in Princeton Battlefield State Park, appears on the seal of Princeton and of Mercer County. The Mercer Oak fell during a storm in 2000. A different tree, called the Twin Oaks, appears on the seal of Lawrence Township. It was a large single oak with a split trunk that no longer stands in front of the municipal building.
“Great oaks from little acorns grow” is an old English proverb. The Brearley Oak is an official Champion on the New Jersey Department of Forestry’s Big Tree Registry.
The list has been maintained since the 1930s to recognize trees that have natural and historical value and should be preserved for future generations.
Help Us Care for the Brearley Oak
The magnificent oak requires your help. As what’s referred to as an “over mature tree,” the Brearley Oak is a “senior citizen” whose growth is slow. It is susceptible to damage and disease and cannot easily repair itself. Please do not dig around the roots, climb in or cut the tree!