Seeing the sights: 'Muster tree' a living reminder
Delavan’s “muster tree,” named for the place were Union recruits once gathered while awaiting their marching orders in the Civil War. Terry Mayer photo.
Sentinel of sorts
Stately and large, the bur oak blends into its triangular corner of an Italian restaurant’s parking lot along Seventh and Washington streets in Delavan, another tree in the city surrounded by asphalt. But arborists estimate it germinated in 1770, when Potawatomi lived in the area. It was growing when American soldiers were fighting the Revolutionary War. And it was there nearly 100 years later, when Americans fought each other.
The oak earned its nickname as “the Muster Tree” during the Civil War, when Union recruits gathered under its shade, waiting there to get their military orders before heading for the local railway station a block away, destined for training camps, like Camp Randall in Madison, where they prepped for war.
Over the decades, the property the tree stood on changed hands. According to city records, a brick house became a Standard Oil Company business, then a succession of restaurants.
Some of the property owners found the tree an annoyance. Its branches obstructed their signs. Its acorns littered the lot. Local historians and concerned neighbors, recognizing the oak’s landmark status, worked to protect it. The result included an easement that allows the city to care for the tree. Two signs, noting the tree’s history and a poem reflecting its Civil War connection, also were installed.
The oak remains part neighborhood fixture, part living yardstick, rooted both in the present and past.
Other Walworth County backyard gems:
Sunday: Beulah Bog
Monday: Portal to a park
Tuesday: Muster tree
Wednesday: P.O. art
Thursday: Ever-flowing well
Friday: Sacred spot
Have any suggestions for your own backyard gems? Send them to email@example.com.