Today we wax historic, for travels had me pass through the small town of Salem, NJ en route to Baltimore this week. It’s just off exit 1 on the NJ Turnpike, the last exit before the Delaware Memorial Bridge. You could make a day trip and visit nearby Fort Mott and Finn’s Point, which date to the Civil War. I visited them the last time I passed this way, and only heard about the 400 year old oak tree afterward.
Now there are older trees; there’s a 3,000 year old bristlecone pine in Yellowstone, whose location is kept secret, to keep idiots from trying to pick souvenirs of its bark. You can’t even take fallen pieces of wood from that part of the park, because of souvenir hunters. This one just happens to be the oldest known tree in the state, because it was standing when the Quakers made this patch of land a graveyard in 1675.
South Jersey, especially the side along the Delaware, has a long history and colonial settlement predates Philadelphia. There are towns with storied histories, like the Othello side of Greenwich, supposedly named because a Moorish princess married a man there, and their progeny settled in that half of town. That’s from William Least Heat-Moon’s excellent road book, Blue Highways: A Journey into America, so if it’s complete bullshit, blame him. I haven’t managed to get down there yet. There are Weird NJ favorites like Shellpile and Bivalve not too far from here, and a muffler man statue in camouflage is between here and Cape May on Route 40, if you’re coming that way.
The Oak Tree is thought to be more than 500 years old; according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, Salem “was established in 1675 by John Fenwick, an English Quaker. The Friends (Quakers) Burial Ground in Salem has the Salem Oak— a tree 80 feet (25 metres) high that is said to be more than 500 years old— under which Fenwick signed a treaty with the Delaware Indians.” It’s quite a sight, being 88 feet tall and covering a quarter acre with shade. At least according to the plaque.
Across the street is the aptly named Salem Oak Diner, established much later in the 50’s. It’s a classic dining car that was expanded in back. They have a decent menu- we were there for breakfast and Boss Man had a bacon & egg on a bagel with home fries. I’d eaten so I didn’t sample their expansive diner menu except for some fruit, but it’s a nice clean place and worth skipping the nearby Cracker Barrel for, if you want to see the tree.