There's A Tree That Owns Itself
Many of us millennials like joking about how far away are our dreams of owning land (aka having our own home), but imagine finding out that even a tree is further along in life than you. That’s right, there’s a famous tree in Georgia that literally owns the very land it was planted on. Standing tall at the corner of South Finley and Dearing Streets in Athens, Georgia, is The Tree That Owns Itself.
This tree, a large white oak that owns the 8 feet in radius around it, is quite the landmark. It doesn’t even matter that you can’t legally own property in the city of Athens if you are of a leafier disposition. The city of Athens acknowledges its rights anyway, and no one has dared build in the place where that tree stands since the land was first deeded in 1888.
The story goes that William H. Jackson, the son of James Jackson (a soldier in the American Revolution as well as a subsequent prominent figure in the Georgia state government), had an intense childhood attachment to a tree in that spot. After he grew up, the man decided that his greatest way to give back to his friend was to make sure no one could ever legally cut it down.
Hence, sometime between 1820-1832, he tried to make it official. According to a newspaper in 1890, the official deed (which has since been lost) 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.”
So was this even technically allowed? Most would argue, no. Under common law in Georgia at the time, the person (or, tree) 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. Thus, because Mr. Jackson’s tree was not a living being who could accept or reject the request, it technically couldn’t own itself.
That didn’t stop the citizens from honoring the deed nonetheless. The tree is considered right-of-way along Finley Street in Athens-Clarke County, but even under the care of local authorities, it is still touted as a cultural institution and cared for by the city. And yes, it does “legally” own itself, and reserve the right to protest (albeit silently, as it is a tree) if someone ever tries to violate its rights. And by the way, the tree that stands in that place now is actually not the original tree, but instead its son.
Sadly, Mr. Jackson’s original tree fell in a storm in 1942. It had already begun eroding in 1906, with an ice storm severely damaging it in 1907. By the time a windstorm took its life in 1942, people had already been talking of planting a new one in its place. They did that four years later from an acorn seedling preserved from the wind storm aftermath. Thus, this tree on the corner of Dearing and Finley Street is known as the “Son of The Tree That Owns Itself”, effectively making this truly a family that owns land. Really makes you think about the way the book The Giving Tree should’ve ended, huh.
Top Image: Boston Public Library/Wikimedia Commons