There's a street sign on West 8th Street in front of the Shriners Children's Hospital that points out an 'historic tree.' However, there's no other facts or figures on display that explain how the tree played a role in the city's history.  

It's a magnificent tree, but what makes it an historic tree?  Why would this particular tree merit a street sign?  I asked Ken Fromknecht to meet me at the tree.  He's a dendrologist.  He studies Erie County trees. 

"I don't know what the history of the tree is,” Ken said.  “It's probably a 225 year old Quercus alba, which is the scientific name for a White Oak."

The Hagen History Center in Erie has no documentation on the tree.  The Shriners Hospital does not know of any historical significance either.  Maybe it's the age.  But aren't there other 225 year old trees in the area?

"Oh there's lots.  There's lots.  The Erie Cemetery probably has many 220 year old White Oaks, Red Oaks,” says Ken.

Ken took us to a property on Ardmore Avenue in Millcreek and showed us a White Oak he says is at least 275 years old.  It and all the other old trees in the area do not have a street sign labeling them historic.

Ken says there are state champion trees in Erie County.  Those trees are listed on a web site called ‘PA Big Trees’.  There is a formula that's used to calculate the points needed to become a state champion.  

The website claims that a tree in Greene Township is the state champion Black Willow tree.  That tree compiled more points than any willow in the state, including Weeping Willows, White Willows, and Pussy Willows.  I had to check it out.  Property owner Barb Schwartz took me down a long swampy trail teeming with bugs.   The trip was worth it.  The willow is huge. The circumference is 334 inches. That's almost 28 feet!  I asked Barb is she ever considered putting up a sign denoting the state champion tree.

“I'm not sure about a sign.  I would have to think about that,” she said.   

Back on 8th Street, the history of the White Oak remains a mystery.  But does it really matter?  It really is a beautiful tree.