This Thing Called Courage

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Tree That Owns Itself

MY DEAR FRIEND CLINT from San Antonio sent me this this morning-- very appropriate, as the novel I am working on now has a 200 year old Silver Maple as one of its main characters. It's from Wikipedia:

Tree That Owns Itself
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Son of The Tree That Owns Itself in 2005. (go to Wikipedia for a picture of it-- for some reason it won't upload here on my blog)
The Tree That Owns Itself is a white oak tree, widely assumed to have legal ownership of itself and of all land within eight feet of its base. The tree is located at the corner of Finley and Dearing Streets in Athens, Georgia, USA. The original tree fell in 1942; a new tree was grown from one of its acorns and planted in the same location. The current tree is sometimes referred to as the Son of The Tree That Owns Itself. Both trees have appeared in numerous national publications, and the site is a local landmark.
1 The Legend of the Tree
2 The History of the Tree
3 Son of The Tree That Owns Itself
4 Tablets
5 Miscellanea
6 References
7 External links

[edit] The Legend of the Tree
The earliest known telling of the tree’s story comes from a front page article titled "Deeded to Itself" in the Athens Weekly Banner of August 12, 1890. The article explains that the tree had been located on the property of Colonel (or Dr.) William Henry Jackson. William Jackson was the son of one James Jackson, (a soldier in the American Revolution as well as a Congressman, U.S. Senator, and governor of Georgia), and the father of another James Jackson (a Congressman and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia); he was the brother of Jabez Young Jackson, also a Congressman.[1][2] William Jackson was reportedly a professor at the University of Georgia; the nature of his military service and the source of the title colonel is unknown.[3] Jackson cherished childhood memories of the tree and, desiring to protect it, he deeded to the tree ownership of itself and the surrounding land. By various accounts this transaction took place between 1820 and 1832.[4][5] According to the newspaper article, the deed read:.

I, W. H. Jackson, of the county of Clarke, of the one part, and the oak tree… of the county of Clarke, of the other part: Witnesseth, That the said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection which he bears 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.

It is unclear whether the story of the Tree That Owns Itself began with the Weekly Banner article or if it had been an element of local folklore prior to that time. The author of "Deeded to Itself" writes that, in 1890, there were few people still living who knew the story.[6]
The story of the Tree That Owns Itself is very widely known and is almost always presented as fact. However, only one person—the anonymous author of "Deeded to Itself"—has ever claimed to have seen Jackson’s deed to the tree. Most writers acknowledge that the deed is lost or no longer exists, if in fact it ever did. Such a deed, even if it did exist, would have no legal standing. Under common law, the person receiving the property in question must have the legal capacity to receive it, and the property must be delivered to—and accepted by—the recipient.[7]
William H. Jackson did, in fact, own the property on the opposite side of Dearing Street from the tree. That plot included the present day 226 Dearing Street but in the early 19th century it was simply designated Lot #14. The tree, however, is located on a portion of what had been Lot #15. Jackson, his wife Mildred, and J.A. Cobb sold their property to a Dr. Matthus Ward in 1832, the same year cited on a plaque as being the date of the tree's deed. The Clarke County real estate indices contain no indication of when or from whom Jackson originally purchased the property, although much of the land in that area is reported to have belonged to a Major James Meriwether.[8][9][10] While Jackson may have lived near the tree as an adult, his childhood was actually spent in Jefferson County, not in Athens.[3]
Recent deeds suggest that the tree's square footage remains part of the property at 125 Dearing Street. These documents describe a parcel bounded on the east by Finley Street and on the north by Dearing Street, an area that would seem to encompass the tree.[11] However, the actual plat map for that property clearly does not include the tree’s oddly shaped corner; its eastern line lies roughly ten feet to the west of the tree’s location—as far as the tax assessor is concerned, the tree’s acreage is not a part of that property.[12]
This certainly does not confirm that the tree owns itself but, rather, suggests that it is considered to be within the right-of-way along Finley Street. Athens-Clarke County confirms that the tree is in the right-of-way and is thus “accepted for care” by municipal authorities; according to city-county officials, local government and the owners of the adjacent property jointly serve as “stewards” for the care of the tree, while Athens' Junior Ladies' Garden Club serves as its “primary advocate.” Regarding Jackson’s deed, one writer noted at the turn of the last century, “However defective this title may be in law, the public recognized it.”[13] In that spirit, it is the stated position of the Athens-Clarke County unified government that the tree does indeed own itself.[14]

Older plaque at the site, weathered by exposure. The stone faintly details a passage from William H. Jackson's deed to the tree.

[edit] The History of the Tree
The original Tree That Owns Itself is estimated to have started life at some time between the mid 16th and late 18th Centuries.[15][16] The tree was considered by some to be both the biggest tree in Athens and the most famous tree in the United States.[17][18] The tree predated the transformation of the area into a residential neighborhood beginning in the mid 19th Century. The residence adjacent to the tree, known as Dominie House, was built at the corner of Milledge Avenue and Waddell Street in 1883, and was moved five blocks to its present location about twenty years later.[18]
By 1906, erosion had become apparent at the base of the tree. George Foster Peabody paid to have new soil, a commemorative tablet and a chain barricade supported by eight granite posts installed around the tree. Despite these efforts, the tree reportedly suffered heavy damage during an ice storm in 1907. Although attempts were made at preservation, rot had already set in and the tree was permanently weakened.
The original oak fell on the evening of October 9, 1942, following a long period of decline. The tree's poor condition had been known for years, and within days of its collapse a move was under way to replace the fallen tree with a "son" grown from one of its acorns.[19] One account suggests that the tree actually died several years before it collapsed, the victim of root rot.[17] The tree was over 100 feet tall and was estimated to be between 150 and 400 years old when it fell.[15][16]
(It has been reported elsewhere that the tree fell on December 1, 1942, succumbing not to old age and disease but rather to a violent windstorm that ravaged much of north Georgia that evening, causing widespread damage and killing several people.[20] While it is possible that some remaining portion of the tree had remained standing for several weeks, only to meet a dramatic end at the hands of a killer storm, it must be noted that only the earlier date is supported by verifiable resources.)

[edit] Son of The Tree That Owns Itself
After the original tree’s demise its small plot sat vacant for four years. Dan Magill, the young son of Athens’ Junior Ladies Garden Club member Elizabeth Magill, suggested that his mother’s club find a replacement for the tree. Several Athenians had cultivated seedlings from acorns of the original tree. That growing in the yard of Capt. Jack Watson, at five feet in height, was deemed the best candidate for transplant. The operation was directed by Roy Bowden of the College of Agriculture at the University of Georgia, assisted by students in the Department of Horticulture.[17]
The new tree was officially dedicated in a formal ceremony on December 4, 1946. Athens mayor Robert L. McWhorter presided and Dr. E.L. Hill, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, offered a short prayer. Also in attendance were Capt. and Mrs. Watson and representatives of the Garden Club. Club president, Patsy Dudley, announced that her group would henceforth take responsibility for maintenance of the tree’s plot, which had fallen into disrepair during the vacancy.[17] The new tree, trimmed back to a mere three feet for transplantation, thrived in its new location. This tree is considered, popularly if not legally, to be the full heir of the original tree. As such it is sometimes referred to as the Son of The Tree That Owns Itself, although it is generally known by the same title as its progenitor. The tree is currently over 50 feet tall.
On December 4, 1996 the Garden Club staged a celebration to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the planting of the new tree. Dan Magill, who as a boy had inspired the replanting effort, served as master of ceremonies.[15]
The tree sits near the crest of a hill, at the southwest corner of the intersection of Dearing and Finley Streets, in a quiet residential neighborhood near downtown Athens and UGA’s North Campus. The portion of Finley Street leading up the hill to the tree is Athens’ only remaining cobblestone street. The tree’s lot is separated from the larger portion of the adjacent property by a private driveway; its enclosure also juts several feet into Finley Street. Thus the tree may in fact appear to occupy a small but separate tract of land. The appearance of separation is accentuated by the retaining wall and ornamental chain barrier that surround the tree. Although located alongside private homes in a residential neighborhood, the Tree That Owns Itself is "open" to the public and regularly attracts visitors.
Although the story of the Tree That Owns Itself is more legend than history the tree has become (with the University Arch and the Double-Barreled Cannon) one of the most recognized and well-loved symbols of Athens. It is routinely featured in travel guides and other visitor information, and has even garnered international recognition through such publications as Ripley's Believe It Or Not, where the tree has been featured on several occasions.[21]

[edit] Tablets

Newer plaque at the site clearly detailing a portion of William H. Jackson's deed.
The site of the tree contains two stone tablets. The first is heavily weathered while the second appears to be considerably newer. Both tablets paraphrase the same portion of William H. Jackson's supposed deed to the tree, with slight alterations made to transform the legalistic language into a first-person declaration of affection:
In addition to the stone tablets a brass plaque is affixed to the concrete retaining wall that surrounds the tree. The plaque reads:
Quercus alba
Deeded to itself by Col. William H. Jackson
circa 1832
This scion of the original tree was planted by
the Junior Ladies Garden Club in 1946
National Register of Historic Places 1975
Athens Historical Landmark 1988
It must be noted that it was not the tree, but rather the entire Dearing Street Historic District (of which the tree is a "resident"), that was added to the National Register in 1975. The District incorporates an area very roughly bounded by Broad, Finley, Waddell, and Church Streets, and was recognized for its architectural significance. The tree was locally designated a historic landmark on February 2, 1988.[3]

[edit] Miscellanea
The tree is located at the top of a hill, in the middle of the oldest originally paved - and only surviving cobblestone street - in the city of Athens.
A second-generation descendent of The Tree That Owns Itself is part of the Historic Tree Grove at the Fort Decker Compound in Port Jervis, New York. Grown from an acorn of the 1946 tree it is known as the Jackson White Oak.[4]
Elsewhere on the Internet, the date of the new tree's planting is given as December 6, 1946, although it was reported on December 5 as having taken place the previous day.

[edit] References
^ Athens, Georgia 18011951. Athens, GA: published by the mayor and city council.
^ The New Georgia Encyclopedia
^ a b c Tree That Owns Itself,
^ a b River City Attractions
^ The date "1832" is given on a brass plaque affixed to the tree's retaining wall.
^ Deeded to Itself (August 12, 1890). Athens, GA: Athens Weekly Banner 58(176) p 1.
^ Reap, James K (2001). Athens, a pictorial history (3rd ed.). Virginia Beach: Donning.
^ Clarke County, Georgia, Deed Book P, page 9 (15 June 1832) and Deed Book S, page 301. (The latter simply identifies Mildred as William Jackson's wife.)
^ Dearing Street Historic District,
^ Cooper, Patricia Irvin, et al, eds (1979). Papers of the Athens Historical Society v. II. Athens, GA: Athens Historical Society.
^ Clarke County, Georgia, Deed Books 1558-166 (1996), 338-455 (1970), et al.
^ Clarke County, Georgia, Plat Book 32-364.
^ Hull, Augustus Longstreet (1906). Annals of Athens, Georgia 1801-1901. Athens, GA(?): Banner Job Office. Reprinted by Mary B Warrer (1978); Danielsville, GA: Heritage Papers.
^ Roger Cauthen, Athens-Clarke County Landscape Administrator (October 27, 2006).
^ a b c Dorsey, Derrick. Mighty oak enjoys golden years.
^ a b The Tree That Owns Itself
^ a b c d Stripling of an oak bravely sets out as heir to “tree than owns itself” (December 5, 1946). Athens, GA: Athens Banner-Herald 114(281), pp 1, 5.
^ a b Thomas, Frances Taliaferro (1999). Historic Dearing Street. Athens, GA: Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.
^ Scobel, Harvey (October 11, 1942). Famed old tree that owned itself, bowing to ravages of age, crashes here Friday. Athens, GA: Athens Banner-Herald, pp 1, 4.
^ Windstorm hits Athens and area; several casualties reported (December 2, 1942). Athens, GA: Athens Banner-Herald 110(279), pp 1, 8.
^ Edward Meyer, Vice President for Exhibits and Archives, Ripley Entertainment Inc (October 26, 2006). Ripley's has featured the tree on at least three occasions: November 10, 1983 August 28, 1994, and April 27, 1996.

[edit] External links
Aerial view from Wikimapia (As of October 26, 2006, this map needs to be corrected. The actual tree is slightly southeast of the space indicated.)
Street map from MapQuest
Driving directions from MapQuest
Topo maps from Terraserver
Aerial photos from Terraserver
Athens Clarke County Virtual Tour Page for the Tree That Owns Itself.
Roadside America's entry for the Tree That Owns Itself.
"A Tree In Athens That Owns Itself" by Richard E. Irby, Jr.
Athens Historical Society
The National Arbor Day Foundation
The Tree City USA Program, of which Athens is a member city.
"I Am So Great" by Cecily Iddings, a poem referencing the Tree That Owns Itself
Retrieved from ""
Categories: Individual oak trees Athens, Georgia Clarke County, Georgia Trees of Georgia (U.S. state)


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