The Sturtevant Oak: The End of our ‘Arboreal Emblem’?

Matt Murphy

Right in front of the Sturtevant Hall stands the Sturtevant Oak, which has been a strong symbol of Illinois College for many decades.Pic4

Thanks to its prime position on campus, along with the famous swing, the great Oak has become the center for many activities, such as wedding proposals, graduation photos, and other various ceremonies. The Sturtevant Oak is now an integral and sentimental part of the IC campus.

To give a little bit more of a background of the Sturtevant Oak, it is a northern red oak (Quercus rubra), with its natural range being mostly the United States east of the Great Plains. Thanks to its fast growing nature, the Red Oak is grown to rejuvenate disturbed sites. They can also be found as street trees in cities thanks to their hardiness.

The Sturtevant Oak gave everybody a scare early this year when a mysterious creaking noise was reported. For a day or two, the sidewalks around the Sturtevant Oak were blocked off for safety purposes. The said noise came from a small branch that was broken as it swayed in the wind.

Unfortunately, this goes to show that the Sturtevant Oak is approaching the end of its long life. The beloved tree is becoming more and more hazardous as it ages, especially during wind and ice storms, which we have been seeing a lot of lately.

Over the past few years, Illinois College has taken numerous measures to try and save the Sturtevant Oak and to make the tree safe to the public. These measures include aerating the root system, filling a large divot under the swing, and providing mulch around the trunk to provide a better root system. The massive limbs have been reinforced with structural cables.

These measures may have slowed deterioration down, but the tree is still going through the natural circle of life. One of the main limbs fell off last year. The root system is also still in decline, with its effects being felt on the upper branches as they are dying or declining.

The Illinois College campus, along with Guy Sternberg, the owner of Starhill Forest Arboretum, has been making efforts to plant seedlings and clones of the Sturtevant Oak. Guy collected some scion wood (twigs) just last week and is will try to graft them in the spring. If the grafting is successful, the favorite tree will live on as a clone. These clones, however, will not produce the same memories that the original Sturtevant Oak produced over a countless number of decades.

When the Sturtevant Oak is gone, the wood should be preserved for suitable use, such as commemorative pieces to help preserve the memories of the tree and its history.

Sternberg guesses that the next embolismic tree for Illinois College will be the ‘New Madrid’ Oak, located around the northeast corner of the Parker Science Building. Originally grown at Starhill Forest Arboretum, the ‘New Madrid’ Oak is an internationally registered cultivar name.

Even though it is increasing in numbers around North America and Europe, this tree is one of the first to be planted outside the arboretum. The New Madrid will definitely have big shoes to fill in order to replace our arboreal emblem that is the Sturtevant Oak.

Update on July 12, 2014:

On July 12, President Farley posted the following on her Facebook page:

“The Sturtevant Oak, which has been the emblem tree of Illinois College for the past century, will need to come down for safety reasons on Monday, July 14. Over the years, the tree has suffered from ice storms, drought, cicadas, foot traffic, and turf competition, along with other elements. Guy Sternberg, of the Illinois College Starhill Forest Arboretum and one of North America’s most respected arborists, has carefully inspected the tree. He has advised us that in spite of our best efforts over the years to secure the tree with structural cabling, it has become very hazardous to pedestrians and historically important Sturtevant Hall.

We will all miss this beautiful tree that has anchored the Historic Upper Quad. I have heard many stories over the last year about the role the Sturtevant Oak has played in the lives of our students — couples have become engaged, alumni come to campus with their children for a ride on the Sturtevant Swing and countless graduates have hopped on to have their photo snapped on Commencement Day.

We will store and dry some of the larger branches to consider how the wood might be used in the future. A conversation is underway with Guy Sternberg to identify a new tree on which to hang the Sturtevant Swing….stay tuned.”

Update on July 14, 2014:

On July 13, 2014, President Farley posted the following on her Facebook page:

“Thank you for your questions and comments regarding my announcement about the Sturtevant Oak. I have loved seeing your favorite photos that were taken on the Sturtevant Swing. We are all sad to see the tree come down.
The contractor has not given us a precise time for taking down the tree on Monday because it is likely the tree service will first take down a tree near Pixley Hall. I have heard from staff, faculty, students, alumni, and Jacksonville residents that they would like to witness the tree coming down or at least have an opportunity to salute the Sturtevant Oak one last time. 


Everyone is invited to gather at 11:00 to toast the tree’s long life and special place in the College’s history. I regret that I will not be there with you because of a previously planned IC trip that began today. Video will be shot of the tree coming down and photos will be taken every 30 minutes to capture images at different stages of the project.

I am pleased to tell you that IC scientists will take material from the tree for further study and Guy Sternberg of Starhill Forest Arboretum has been successful in grafting the Sturtevant Oak. The stump will have to be taken out because we believe it is hollow. The wood that can be saved will be stored for future use and the Swing will be relocated. A new oak tree will be planted in the Sturtevant Oak’s place.

Join in the Sturtevant Oak Celebration and be part of this momentous day on Illinois College’s Historic Upper Quad.”

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