USS Bennington Memorial Oak Grove in Balboa Park.

A beautiful live oak grove in Balboa Park honors men who died tragically on the USS Bennington in 1905.
A beautiful live oak grove in Balboa Park honors men who died tragically on the USS Bennington in 1905.

Balboa Park is without a doubt one of America’s national treasures. Located just north of downtown San Diego, its 1,200 acres is the home of magnificent museums, gardens, architectural marvels, many recreational facilities and perhaps the world’s most famous zoo. The amazing urban park is so gigantic most visitors see only a small fraction of it. Some out-of-the-way corners of Balboa Park are enjoyed by locals who live nearby; other overlooked areas seem almost forgotten.

The USS Bennington Memorial Oak Grove is one such area. While many drive by it on any given day, as they travel along 26th Street just before it turns into Florida Drive, and a few joggers pass through the shady grove, I’d wager only a handful of San Diegans know of the oak grove’s existence or historical significance.

There are 66 live oak trees in this grove. They were planted to memorialize 66 men killed on the USS Bennington on the morning of July 21, 1905, when the gunboat’s boiler suddenly exploded and the ship nearly sank in San Diego’s harbor. No markers in the grove indicate the significance of the large gnarled oaks. (A 60 foot high granite obelisk stands at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma, a memorial to those sailors who died on the USS Bennington. Most of the dead are buried there.)

The USS Bennington was a warship with a long and proud history. Commissioned in 1891, she was the ship that claimed Wake Island for the United States. After the boiler explosion in San Diego Bay, eleven men were awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism.

Earlier this year, when I visited an exhibit in Balboa Park created by The Daughters of the American Revolution San Diego Chapter, I learned the local DAR would like to place plaques in the grove to memorialize the USS Bennington and the men who tragically died. If you, your business or organization would like information about the project, or to help, you might contact them from their page.  Should this project come to fruition, I’ll be very pleased to blog about it!

View of the Bennington Memorial Oak Grove from Golden Hill Park, located near the southeast corner of Balboa Park. The Balboa Park Golf Club and Naval Medical Center San Diego are also visible.
View of the Bennington Memorial Oak Grove from Golden Hill Park, located near Balboa Park’s southeast corner. Balboa Park’s public golf course and Naval Medical Center San Diego are also visible.
Wooden footbridge along 26th Street leads to a little-used trail through USS Bennington Memorial Oak Grove in Balboa Park.
Wooden footbridge along 26th Street leads to a little-used trail through USS Bennington Memorial Oak Grove in Balboa Park.
Sixty large old oak trees memorialize 60 sailers killed in 1905 when the USS Bennington's boiler exploded in San Diego's nearby harbor.
Beautiful old oak trees memorialize 66 sailors killed in 1905 when the USS Bennington’s boiler exploded in San Diego’s nearby harbor.
Looking up through the leaves of the live oak trees at blue sky and clouds.
Looking up through the leaves of the live oak trees at blue sky and clouds.
These trees, honoring fallen men, remind us of a sudden tragic moment in San Diego history.
These trees, honoring fallen men, remind us of a sudden tragic moment in San Diego’s military history.
A commercial airplane flies overhead as it crosses Balboa Park heading in toward Lindbergh Field.
A commercial airplane flies overhead as it crosses Balboa Park heading in toward Lindbergh Field.
A jogger enjoys the shady old trees on a warm day in early October.
A jogger enjoys the shady old trees on a warm day in early October.

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Published by

Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

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