NEW MILFORD _ It has endured countless storms during the past three centuries, but the Washington Oak that stands along Gaylord Road in Gaylordsville may have finally met its match Saturday.
The white oak tree was ripped apart by the snow that accumulated during Saturday's storm, as about one-third of the tree, which had been weakened by years of decay, fell to the ground and damaged nearby fencing.
It remains unclear whether the remainder of the tree, which is at the site where George Washington supposedly conferred with his troops in 1780, can be saved.
Local residents like Barbara Thorland, secretary of the Gaylordsville Historical Society, were saddened when they learned of the extensive damage to the historic tree.
``With the added snow weight and moisture Saturday evening, that was it,'' Thorland said. ``That was the last straw.''
``I hope the tree can be saved and prosper for a good many more years,'' she said.
So does Newtown resident Myrtle DiNovi, who is a regent for the Roger Sherman Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution, a branch of the national DAR society, has owned the tree, and the property it sits on, ever since it was donated to the group about 66 years ago. They posted a sign at the site stating the tree's significance, DiNovi said.
DiNovi said the tree has been repaired after being damaged by previous storms and a few lightning strikes. The tree has long suffered from decay as well. But this latest incident is by far the most damage the venerable tree has ever sustained at one time, she said.
DiNovi said she learned about the damage when a person who lives near the tree called her Saturday night. ``I was totally shocked,'' she said.
Retired arborist Howard Stevens, a New Milford resident, performed a cursory inspection of the tree yesterday, but he said a more detailed examination of the extent of the decay is necessary to determine whether the tree can be saved.
``I just hope there is a whisper of salvageability left in this tree, although I am not very optimistic at the moment,'' Stevens said.
``If left like it is, it will fall down on its own,'' Stevens said. ``I think this tree can be made to live a little bit longer, but it will definitely have to be lightened up (by trimming branches).''
According to information provided by the New Milford Historical Society, Washington and his staff held a conference under the tree on Sept. 20, 1780. Washington was on his way from the Tappan area of New York to Hartford at the time, and he and his men stopped in Gaylordsville to have lunch and discuss plans.
Washington was reportedly on his way to Hartford to meet with the Comte de Rochambeau and other French officers, who had not yet been persuaded to help the Americans in their fight for independence.
``We are very much in support of anything that could be done to keep (the tree) healthy,'' said Delores Dunn, curator for the New Milford Historical Society. ``It is a nice part of our local history.''