The Old Oak at Peekskill Military Academy

The Old Oak at Peekskill Military Academy

(Please note that although I have taken numerous pictures of the Oak Tree, I have also acquired others and cannot be absolutely certain whether I actually took this picture, or who the original photographer is.)

About 400 years ago, a tiny acorn dropped from a nearby oak tree, or perhaps the mouth of a squirrel.  More likely, it was buried by a squirrel, which for reasons unknown, never returned to collect its bounty.  Unfortunately for the squirrel, but fortunately for us, in time a new tree sprouted from the rich top soil of the land around what would come to be known as Oak Hill Street in Peekskill, New York. 

Some 150 years later on January 7, 1777 (although this date is contested in the plaque described below), during the Revolutionary war, a spy for the British was captured and summarily hanged on the rapidly developing statuesque oak tree.  In fact, when the Peekskill Military Academy was built on the site, in the shade of the great tree (1833), Daniel Strang’s bones were found buried nearby.  They were removed and reburied farther away.  Legend has it that the branch from which Strang was hanged was cut off and and used to make walking sticks.

The tree subsequently became known as the “Hanging Tree,” the “Academy Oak,” and/or the “Charter Oak.”  In 1912, a plaque with the following inscription was placed on the trunk of the great oak tree:

“This tablet has been placed here by the Cornelia Beekman Chapter,
Junior Sons and Daughters of the Revolution, June 6, 1912
in honor of this tree upon which was hanged Jan 27, 1776
an American who was employed as a spy by the British”

Almost 12 feet in diameter, the Old Oak served as the centerpiece of the PMA campus, even finding a place on the uniform patch of the cadets, as well as part of the school’s motto:  “Stand firm as an Oak; Quit you like men.” 

In 1968 when the Academy closed, the land was purchased by the City of Peekskill and a new public Peekskill High School was erected on the site.  Despite efforts to protect the tree, the root system was badly damaged, causing the tree to lose many branches and ultimately requiring a system of cables to maintain its previous magesty.

On June 1, 2006, the Old Oak was struck by a massive lightening bolt as pictured above.  It was determined by experts to be hazardous, and the tree was subsequently removed.  The PMA Alumni Association had intended to use the wood from the tree to make artifacts and momentos commemorating it.  

Strangely enough, when the tree was cut, concrete was discovered in the core of the trunk.  Evidently, this lightening strike had not been the first, and sometime earlier, date unknown, this had been a remedy for an earlier severe strike.

The Old Oak, as we alumni of PMA fondly remember it, still lives in our hearts, and many of us can remember, sitting under the tree on warm spring days … sheltered in its widespread shade.

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10 Responses to “The Old Oak at Peekskill Military Academy”

  1. Your Eldest Says:

    While I still dispute whether Strang was “hanged” rather than “hung”, I don’t dispute that justice was served!

  2. Adrian Gordon Says:

    I’m not sure where I learned it, but somehow I recall knowing when we were at PMA in the late 50s and and early 60′s that the trunk of the Oak was filled with concrete. Don’t know when it was done, but I recall knowing that way back.

  3. Sondra Says:

    Sondra…

    [...]The Old Oak at Peekskill Military Academy « fogeyfotia[...]…

  4. Anonymous Says:

    I REMEMBER IT WELL. COL. JOHN J. GAYNOR

  5. Anonymous Says:

    “Stand firm as an oak” I remember it well

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I remember being in formation by the parade field when we learned of JFK’s shooting.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Hello all, there seem to be a few of you that attended the Peeksville Military Academy way back in early 50′s and i wonder if anyone might have been there a little earlier or knows someone that was.
    My father attended the academy in about 47′ or 48′, his name was Donald Zion, Does anyone remember him or know if there is some kind of records of all who attended the academy?
    Most appreciatively,
    Shani Zion ( his daughter in London England)

    • COL. JOHN J. GAYNOR ESQ. USA(RET) Says:

      I WAS COMMANDANT FROM 1957 TO 1961. I KNOW THERE
      ARE SEVERAL FORMER CADETS ON THE NET. I WAS
      STATIONED IN LEICESTER DURING WWII WITH THE 82ND AIRBORNE DIV. I JUMPED IN NORMANDY ON 6/6′/44

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you for your reply, would you have any idea of how to find records of previous cadets at Peaksville Military Academy?

  9. Michael Says:

    Anonymous, you might check out our Facebook page “Peekskill Military Academy Alumni Association. There are a few members of this group whose fathers attended PMA, one graduating in 1948.

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