Even before there was a Basking Ridge, NJ, there was the oak tree.

When it didn't last month, when even more of its upper branches stayed bare, other experts were consulted. They tested the soil, probed the tree's roots, checked for beetles and disease. Jason Grabosky, an ecologist at Rutgers University, inspected the tree in mid-June and declared it to be "in a spiral of decline."

Although Grabosky gave no timeline, residents are suddenly preparing for the worst. Many talk about the tree's demise as they would a family member's. "It's about knowing when to let go," Jones told the Post.

But if branches do fall, Culver said the wood is put to good use.

"When the branches fell in 1999, a guy came with a saw mill and cut some branches into slabs. There were some limbs that couldn't be cut that way, so we offered those to some local artisans," he said.