Most Cranford residents who have kids involved in either boys or girls basketball have a rainbow of Rec uniform shirts in the kids’ drawers. And while they may receive a different color each year, the one thing the shirts always bear is the Cranford Recreation Department symbol, featuring Old Peppy. If you ever wondered why the tree was emblazoned on so many things in town, today is the day your questions are answered!
Old Peppy is the name given to the pepperidge tree which takes root on Lincoln Avenue in Cranford, right on the fringe of Lincoln Park. The pepperidge tree, or nissa sylvanicus in Latin, is also known as the sour gum, blackgum, or black tupelo in other parts of the country, and Old Peppy is believed to be the largest of its kind in the northeastern United States, at an estimated 250 years+ old. While that age may seem impressive, there are actually pepperidge trees in the United States that may be up to 850 years old. Yowza!
Old Peppy is an important branch (tee hee!) of both Cranford and United States history. It was growing right in its current spot back when New Jerey was a brand new colony, and the settlers befriended the Delaware Indians. That means it has lived to see the birth of our nation, and the ENTIRE history of our nation, including one civil and two world wars. While Peppy remains virtually unnoticed by the hundreds of cars whizzing by daily, it used to provide shade for the horses pulling the carriages of yesteryear. If that tree could talk, Oh, the stories it could tell!!
Old Peppy sort of accidentally came into the limelight a few years ago, when it split in two during a heavy storm and was thought to be a goner. Since then, “Old Peppy” has survived an earthquake, Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy, and a host of freakishly strong storms. The township considered taking down Old Peppy, fearing it may have become a danger to residents. Instead, a tree service trimmed some of the branches on the split section to alleviate the weight, then installed four support cables to anchor the unsteady bough to the main trunk of the tree. There is currently a fence surrounding the tree for protection, as it is frequently visited by residents and classes from local schools.
Old Peppy isn’t out of the “woods” yet. The township continues to discuss the best course of action for its future, considering both the historical importance of the tree, as well as the safety of residents and visitors. Last year, a successor was planted, just in case, nearby . . . . guess that would be “Lil’ Peppy,” Or “Peppy Jr.” But, for now, Old Peppy stands tall and proud, and with each trunk ring carries with it a litany of stories, the likes of which no human being could match.
So the next time you pass by, make a point of stopping to admire the old tree. Think for a moment about all that this tree has seen, and how the world has changed around it. Really, how could you help but be impressed? You may even be inspired to “bough” to it. Sorry. I’ll “leave” you with that one.