Nominated by Mark McClellan and Jennifer Davis
Darien is known for its iconic sprawling oaks. Adorned with Spanish moss almost like a draped, crocheted quilt. Like fingers, the branches’ reaching towards the sunlight that they crave. Many are noteworthy, but at 250 years old this oak tree has seen some of the most historically significant moments of time for not just the City of Darien but the foundation of our great Nation. Many a visitor has sat in the shade of its 100 foot crown spread. Locals have spent their childhood playing above its mighty roots. What makes this single oak so strong to stand the test of time?
Founded by the Scottish Settlers in 1736, New Inverness was a land of hope and prosperity. Much like this oak, they began their Oglethorpe recruited and planned settlement in the soil of present day Darien. 177 men, women, and children began their journey to protect the frontier of Georgia from the Spanish occupied Florida. Beginning with their rudimentary fort and homes they went from cultivating crops to herding cattle. This tree grew as well as the small town adding more highland settlers. Despite the growth of the colony, the Spanish-Indian wars raged on affecting the region. Many settlers left and many more came but this oak kept growing steadily as did the United States of America.
New Inverness was renamed Darien after a former Scottish Colony in Panama and soon became the seat of McIntosh County in 1816. As this tree reached its centennial years during the antebellum period, it saw the port of Darien grow and flourish with the export of rice from Butler Island Plantation and cotton from Sea Island Plantation, among others. Being one of the wealthiest sections of the Atlantic Coast, this tree saw the export of over 6 million pounds of rice from the Altamaha Delta in 1859 alone. This tree more than likely saw the face of one of the most famous and important agriculturalist and politicians of that time, Thomas Spaulding.
As with time, all things change and the civil war broke out throughout the United States. One of the most pivotal moments in the civil war was the product of 54th Massachusetts Regiment and 2nd South Carolina Volunteers under the command of Union Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The first official African-American units to serve the United States during the civil war, this very oak saw their landing on the docks of Darien. These soldiers passed by the then 100 year old oak as they went on to burn Darien. Although no human casualties became of this destruction, the structural damage was almost irreparable. This mighty oak survived one of the most catastrophic moments in Darien’s history. The ruins from the port still lay at its feet and along the waterfront.
From the civil war, Darien arose like a phoenix from the ashes and became one of the largest ports on the Southeast for shipping lumber. This 55 foot tall giant remained untouched as Darien depleted its timber and turned to another natural resource: commercial fishing. This mighty oak has since kept a watchful eye on the Darien River during its bicentennial years as many commercial fishermen gently mosey down the river to harvest shrimp, fish, oysters, and cannonball jellyfish. For the last 47 years this very tree has been in the center of the Annual Blessing of the Fleet to celebrate and bless the fishermen of this ever-surviving community. Much like this city and its inhabitants, this “Great American” tree has stood the test of time and survived insurmountable devastation and saw all the faces that kept striving towards the greater good and regrowth of a now heritage-rich and close knit community. It makes one wonder what this mighty oak will come to see of the future.
Coordinates: 31 22’ 04.50”, 81 26’ 05.69”
Size: CBH = 223”, Height = 55’, Crown Spread = 100’
Ecosystem Services: 21,137 gallons of water intercepted
1345 pounds of CO2 sequestered
$211 of ecosystem services each year
Land Scape Value: $94,000
Co-authors: Mark McClellan & Jennifer Davis