RICHMOND — Several feet wide and weighing about 500 pounds, a slice of the famous Hillsdale Road oak tree sits in the Richmond Public Works garage.
The tree was cut down two summers ago to make way for improvements to Hillsdale Road. Surprised and upset by the oak’s removal, residents asked the town to draft a tree ordinance that would prevent similar incidents in the future. It went into effect last July and is intended to identify and protect large and historic trees, “specimen trees,” on town property.
The Richmond Conservation Commission saved two immense slices of the tree. One piece, now known as the Great Richmond Oak Slab, will become a vehicle for learning about Richmond’s history. The fate of the second slab is still unclear.
Adam DeAngelis, 17, is the creator of the oak slab project. He has counted the tree’s 134 growth rings, and with information gleaned from the Richmond Historical Society, will use them to mark the corresponding years in which significant events that occurred in the town. Those include the opening of Richmond Elementary School in 1935 and the construction of Interstate 95 in 1955.
“It’s going to be a really neat project once it’s all done. With all the history of Richmond, it’s great for anybody who lives here, who might not know anything about the town,” DeAngelis said.
“I learned from the book that was written by the Richmond Historical Society how many different mills there were in Richmond. That’s mainly what they did for industry, and just about the way of life there was hundreds of years ago.”
Adam, a member of the National Honor Society, is in 11th grade at Chariho High School. His parents, Nancy and Dave DeAngelis, describe him as a young man who prefers nature and the outdoors to computers.
“He’s into gardening. He’s just turned over a new garden — huge — we have a few animals at home, and he likes to take care of those. We have a couple of goats, some rabbits and chickens, and he gets very attached to his animals. He builds models,” Dave said. Adam is also a discus thrower on the Chariho track team.
“He likes to be busy,” Nancy added.
Conservation Commission Chairman James Turek, who approached the Boy Scouts with the idea for the project, said the slab would be exhibited at the commission’s Richmond Environmental Awareness Day and Cleanup.
“The Great Richmond Oak Slab project is significant both as a public education tool as well as a community service activity for a committed Eagle Scout candidate,” he said. “The Conservation Commission appreciates the work effort by Adam DeAngelis and looks forward to seeing the oak display as a highlight of our town.”
Last fall, the slab was sent to a kiln for drying, a process that removed about 100 pounds of water from the wood.
Adam, with help from his father, two younger brothers and fellow Scouts, then began the finishing work two months ago.
“We took a very aggressive sandpaper grit to it, I think it was a 36,” he said. “We had two belt sanders going on it and we went from a very aggressive grit and worked out way up to a more fine grit to get it nice and smooth. We dusted it all off, put a vacuum into the cracks to get all the dust out, and put on a layer of tung oil.”
Adam will apply more oil to the wood as needed, to get the growth rings to stand out.
He said he had learned a lot about dendrology, the study of woody plants like trees.
“I really didn’t know anything about dendrology to start with. I knew about the rings having to do with the years, but now I know how to count them,” he said.
To preserve the rings’ visibility, Adam said he would probably use strings leading to a cork board on which the events will be written.
“We’re trying to keep the stuff obstructing the slab itself to a minimum, so you can see the rings and see the whole thing. I’m thinking we’re going to try and do a cork board surrounding the slab and draw lines of string to the event, so you can see the entire thing,” he said.
The slab will be unveiled on June 14 at Richmond Environmental Awareness Day and Cleanup, which will take place at the Town Hall green from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
It will then be moved to the Bell historic schoolhouse next door, and may eventually find a permanent home at the Town Hall.