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Olney landmark tree falls, brewery giving it second life

Last week's winds took down the more than 200-year-old Lone Oak.

OLNEY, Md. — One tree creates the identity of the Lone Oak Farm Brewery in Olney, Maryland. For the Miller brothers, it became a living symbol of their ambitions.

"We went to high school locally, we used to drive by, that kind of looks like the tree of life," said co-owner Charlie Miller. "Then one day, 15 years later, we actually ended up purchasing the property and owning it, I guess if you could own such a thing."

Brother and co-owner Chris Miller added that the tree was like a lone pillar of strength out of the middle, exposed to all the elements.

"That was the only tree out there," Chris Miller said. "That's part of the reason why it had such an iconic shape. Trees in the forest are all competing for light, they grow straight up. This was the lone oak out in the field. So it had all of the space, it could spread out that crown, that 150-foot wide crown that was just perfectly symmetrical and just a testament to its location in consideration of those surrounding landscape."

Credit: Becca Knier
Lone Oak Farm Brewery co-owners Charlie and Chris Miller

Children played, businesses grew, and families united, all within sight of the Lone Oak of Olney. To the Miller brothers, it was, to borrow a line from a poem: "The Giving Tree. It gave us all the seasons."

However, The Giving Tree grew tired after hundreds of years.

"I live on the property. So we were dozing off my wife and I, and all of a sudden this kind of weird bang happened. And she hopped up and said, 'I think that was the tree.' And I was kind of out. I was like, 'No, there's no way it was a tree.' And sure enough, we went to the window and looked out. And under the bright moonlight, we could see the tree was down," recalled Chris Miller.

Credit: Becca Knier
The Miller brothers in front of the fallen Lone Oak of Olney

The tree symbolized a lot for the brothers, not only as a business but in their lives. 

"Charlie and I went into this endeavor, young kind of wide-eyed entrepreneurs not really knowing how is going to work out and the tree was always this symbol of kind of excitement and hope and strength," said Chris Miller. "So to see it down, was kind of surreal, in a tragic way. But we had some signs leading up to it. So I started to prepare myself mentally. But actually having it happen. It does hurt."

The Lone Oak of Olney gave all it could. Beyond turning the wood into tables and chairs, the brewery has plans to put the Lone Oak into their beer.

Credit: Becca Knier
A tap at Lone Oak Farm Brewery

"In about two years, our hope is that they'll have milled the wood, dried it, put the vessel together and send it back to us and we can start aging our beer in that vessel," explained Chris Miller. "You'll actually have the flavor of the oak in the product."

Credit: Becca Knier
Cans of beer at Lone Oak Farm Brewery

Local legend has it that during the Civil War, the Lone Oak divided two families. On one side, a family siding with the Union. On the other side, a family sided with the Confederacy.

Josh Nadler leads efforts to take clippings from the Lone Oak and graft them onto living tree sprouts.

Credit: Becca Knier
Grafting a tree to re-plant the Lone Oak of Olney

"We're basically cloning the tree's genetic makeup. And if we can get some of those clones to take and become viable, then we'll be able to in a few years from now, when they develop, replant one of them," said Chris Miller.

Growing a new Lone Oak will take several decades. Nadler’s son Hunter is helping to give the Lone Oak new life. If successful, this 10-year-old may one day know what it looked like. The Miller brothers hope to see their old friend, in a new form, one more time.

"I'll see one of them and it will cast a shade that I can rest under maybe one last time as well," said Chris Miller.

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