It's easy to miss Ledyard, Connecticut, a small town just north of Groton on the Thames River's shores. After all, this community in New London County has only 15,000 residents and is almost entirely rural, so it feels like a continuation of a nearby town or city rather than a separate place.
Many who pass through Ledyard don't realize that it's the location of Foxwoods Resort Casino, nor do they know that it's named for Colonel William Ledyard, an officer in the Revolutionary War killed during the Battle of Groton Heights.
And even fewer passersby are aware of Great Oak Park and the history behind its oak tree.
Once you buy a home in Ledyard, CT, you'll have the opportunity to learn about The Ledyard Oak and the rest of the property at the Nathan Lester House Museum. This unique park is a source of pride for locals and a significant part of Ledyard's history and identity, so you're sure to visit once you make your home in this town.
Here's some information on The Ledyard Oak and the property surrounding it at Great Oak Park in Ledyard, Connecticut.
About the Ledyard Oak
First things first: there's very little left of The Ledyard Oak today. That's because the tree died in 1969 after gypsy moth caterpillars ate all of its leaves. The tree never recovered from this attack and has spent the last 50 years decomposing, leaving a small stump behind.
Before its death, the tree was believed to be over 400 years old and was the largest white oak tree in the entire state and the second largest in the country. The tree stood at over 70 feet tall and had a circumference of 21 feet, allowing it to stand out amongst the surrounding forest.
The tree had long been a part of Ledyard's early history and folklore. Evidence suggests that The Ledyard Oak, also known as the Lester Oak, Larrabee Oak, and Graves Oak, was a meeting place for local tribes due to its shaded location in the heart of Mashantucket Pequot territory.
Researchers have uncovered artifacts near the tree, suggesting that it acted as an important site before widespread European expansion into the region.
The death of the tree isn't the end of the story for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, in 2009, a local landscaping company planted a new oak beside the original. It'll take centuries for this tree to reach the heights of its predecessor, but 400 years from now, locals could be talking about The Ledyard Oak, long after any sign of the first one is gone.
Secondly, the town of Ledyard owns the area around the tree, and it has become a nature park for residents to enjoy all year round. There's also a museum in the home built on the land in the 1700s.
The presence of these items means that locals will continue visiting the remains of The Ledyard Oak for years to come, preserving its importance in the community.
Exploring the Nathan Lester House Museum
The property surrounding The Ledyard Oak is home to Nathan Lester House, a structure dating back to 1793 that is now a museum. The house is open to the public, as are some of the property's remaining barns.
The house also hosts the Ledyard History Society, so it's full of artifacts from around town, while the barns feature historic tools used by Nathan Lester on his farm.
The Lester family owned the property into the 1900s, and the subsequent owners sold it to the town of Ledyard in 1967.
The museum is open between Memorial Day and Labor Day on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00 to 4:00 and Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 until 4:30. There is no fee to visit, although donations are accepted and encouraged.
The Rest of the Park
The remainder of the area around the farmhouse and oak tree, called Great Oak Park, is also worth exploring thanks to its nature trails. Overall, the park has 2.5 miles of paths, or visitors can hike off-trail through the woods on their own. The hike is relatively flat and smooth, making it accessible for even inexperienced hikers.
Other items in the park include a historic cemetery, vernal pools, old stone walls, and pastures. There are picnic tables, should you want to pack a lunch for your journey, and even a slab featuring dinosaur footprints between the barns and the house.
There's something for everyone at this historic property in Ledyard, Connecticut's Gales Ferry village, and if you're thinking of moving to the community, the park is a definite selling feature.
A Piece of Living History in Ledyard, CT
Many communities along the Connecticut Shoreline are full of history because they are the first parts of the country to be inhabited by European settlers.
However, the history goes well beyond European settlement, as there's evidence of past civilizations using this land, including the area around The Ledyard Oak.
Buying a home in Ledyard puts you in a unique location where you're minutes from larger centers like New London, Norwich, and Groton with easy access to the amenities of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun. At the same time, you can spend your days in a rural environment while avoiding the big city problems associated with living in a more expansive community.
Ledyard, Connecticut, is an excellent place to live if you value history and like to keep your privacy while having shopping, dining, and other attractions within an easy drive.