Saturday, October 9, 2010

9 October 1942: The Tree That Owns Itself Falls

On this day in 1942, the Tree That Owns Itself "passed away...quietly and with all the dignity befitting its historic life."  The white oak was believed to be nearly 400 years old, and had been badly damaged in a sleet storm at the turn of the century.  The Athens Banner-Herald reported that "life in the center of the tree disappeared years ago and it was only a question of time until the tree fell of old age."

Ownership by the Tree of itself is based on an item that appeared in the August 12, 1890, Athens Weekly Banner that states "... the said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection which he bears the said tree, and his great desire to see it protected has conveyed and by these presents do convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all sides."  The full story indicates the Tree was one Jackson had "watched grow since childhood" and was "pained to think what might happen to it" once he died.

However, no original deed can be found at the courthouse, and it is likely the news item was a hoax.  W. H. Jackson did not own the property where the Tree stood, and only lived in Athens while attending the University of Georgia, then again much later in his life.

Little to no mention of the Tree is made in papers or books until the Centennial Edition of the Athens Banner-Herald revived the story in June, 1901.  In 1906, George Foster Peabody paid to have granite posts erected around the tree, good soil added and sodded at its base, and a marble marker placed on the spot.  At that point, the Tree took on a career of its own, with photos printed on postcards, artist renderings as check decoration by Citizens Bank and Trust Company, and the Tree was noted in books about historic trees, including one issued by the U. S. Forestry Service in 1935.  The city recognizes the Tree's ownership of itself and its plot.

Four years after the Tree fell, the Junior Ladies Garden Club of Athens planted a sapling grown from an acorn of the original tree.  Sometimes known as Son of the Tree That Owns Itself, the white oak planted in 1946  is the one that stands today at the corner of Dearing and Finley Streets.  Keeping with the times, it has its own Facebook page.

Learn More:

No comments:

Post a Comment