Happy birthday, Travilah oak tree
Oct. 22, 2003
Erin Uy
Staff Writer

Laurie DeWitt/The Gazette

Kayla Smith (center), 4, leads sister Annie, 2, around a 250-year-old oak tree near Travilah Road at a birthday party celebrating the tree's history Saturday. About 50 residents attended the celebration.

Community fetes 250-year-old tree

When Miles Denicoff left the Travilah Oak Celebration in Potomac Saturday, it wasn't empty handed.

He carried with him a potted red bud tree that fit easily in his 5-year-old hands. But Denicoff, of Potomac, had high expectations for the flimsy, three-inch-tall seedling.

"I think it will grow to 50 years old or older," Denicoff said. "...It will be very big."

His tree was about 83 feet short of matching the white oak he came to visit Saturday at the Travilah Oak Celebration, a birthday party attended by about 50 people for an estimated 250-year-old tree rooted near the intersection of Glen and Travilah roads.

Businesses located in the nearby Potomac Oak Center, formerly known as Glenvilah Shopping Center, sponsored the inaugural event, which included storytelling, raffle drawings, food and wine tasting, guide dog training and karate demonstrations. Entertainment included a costumed stilt walker and a classical guitar concert by the Alexandria Guitar Trio.

Saturday was infused with all the elements of a classic fall day. A crisp breeze prompted parents to button up their children's coats as they sat in a tractor bed waiting for a hayride. But as the black-and-red tractor tugged the group away from the white oak's shade toward nearby fields, the sun quickly warmed their cool cheeks.

Scarecrows tied to lamp poles decorated the shopping center parking lot, and a long booth decorated with large pots of colorful mums beckoned pumpkin carvers.

The celebration focused on the tree as a symbol of longevity for Travilah. The white oak is the third largest known white oak tree in the county with a trunk 17 feet and 9 inches in circumference and branches spanning 106 feet, said Jim Harris, arborist for Kensington-based Wood Acres Tree Specialist.

The largest white oak in the county is located in Barnesville, where it stands 95 feet tall, with branches spreading 108 feet and a circumference of more than 21 feet, he said.

Harris said white oaks are able to sustain changing environmental conditions such as droughts and introduction of new soils.

The white oak tree, which sits about 50 feet from the intersection of Glen and Travilah roads, has witnessed many changes, said Clare Cavicchi, a historic preservation planner for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Cavicchi briefed a small group of participants who sat on haystacks under the limbs of the white oak tree.

Cavicchi reflected on the area's history since the early 1700s when tobacco plantations stretched toward Travilah's horizon. But by the 1800s, due to excess farming, nutrients had been depleted from the soil and many farmers migrated to more flourishing areas.

Those who did stay managed to prosper in another industry and by the mid-1800s, the former plantation was the epicenter of a flour mill industry. The area officially took the name "Travilah" in 1883 after the postmaster, Travilah Clagget.

In the 1880s, Potomac Oak Center was the location of Travilah Country Store, a mom-and-pop general store where children could buy candy for a penny. It closed in the 1960s.

A town hall built in 1910 off Glen Road was once the center of the community and the site of strawberry festivals, minstrel shows and public meetings. The hall is now a private residence and protected as a historic building.

"It's one thing to read about it in books and it's another thing to think that people more than 100 years ago stood right where we are standing today," said Cavicchi, sitting on a wooden bench built under the shade of the white oak tree.

Tony Greenblat, a veterinarian at Glenvilah Veterinary Clinic, said the cozy event was ideal for building community. "It's nice to see a real local Travilah celebration," he said.