If you thought that only people owned land, you would be mistaken. Since 1890, a 201-square-foot circle of land has belonged to two generations of white oak tree. According to legend and newspaper records, the original tree stood on the property of William Henry Jackson, son of politician and Revolutionary War veteran, James Jackson. On August 12, 1890, The Athens Banner printed their front page title with the article “Deeded to Itself,” about a tree that had its own property rights.
The Tree That Owns Itself
The legend of the tree may have existed as a folk story or rumor prior to the publication of the news article, but from the time of the publication onward, the Tree That Owns Itself became a landmark within the state of Georgia. Jackson supposedly had fond childhood memories of the tree and decided to protect it by writing a deed that promised the tree itself and the land within 8 feet of its base to the massive oak, according to the Athens Banner article. The truth of the article remains unknown, as the anonymous author is the only one who ever claimed to have seen the tree’s deed, and they even say in their article that few people had heard of the legend.
Picking the legend apart further, the tree does not sit on the plot of land that belonged to the Jackson family, and though there is a plaque with the alleged date of the deeding at the base of the tree that was supposedly placed there by the neighboring landowners and Jackson, there are no legal records that back it up. Furthermore, Jackson did not grow up in Athens, making the claims of his childhood memories in the tree’s branches rather shaky. Property maps of the area show the tree’s present location as being part of the road easement for Finley Street, one of its border roads.
Even though the legal backing for the Tree That Owns Itself is shaky, the county and city recognize the tree for its legendary status. By the early 1900s, the tree showed signs of erosion around the base, and in 1907, an ice storm caused irreparable damage to the already-weakened tree. On October 9, 1942, the tree finally fell, succumbing to its injuries and rot. Some suggest that the tree, which was between 150 and 400 years old by the time it fell, had actually died a few years prior but had taken some time to fall. Within days of its demise, however, plans were put into motion to grow a new tree from one of its acorns.
The Son Of The Tree That Owns Itself
In 1946, in a continuation of the deed that once belonged to its parent tree, The Son Of The Tree That Owns Itself was planted on the very same plot of land. It assumed the provisions set forth by Jackson’s original deed, inheriting its autonomy and its land from its father. On its plot, the plaque deeding the land still stands, as does another commemorative plaque naming the new tree as the scion of the original.
Though the story surrounding these two trees is more fiction than fact, The Tree That Owns Itself remains an important symbol to the town of Athens, Georgia. It stands as a major tourist attraction and remains one of the most famous trees in the United States, even to this day.