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Landmark Legend: Treaty Oak

5:27 PM, Jul 11, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The city's oldest resident has deep roots in Jacksonville. 

Treaty Oak has been living and growing on the Southbank for 250 to 300 years, even before George Washington was elected President.

In the early 1900's it was one of the main attractions at Dixieland Amusement Park on the Southbank. Giant Oak, as she was called back then, was the backdrop of a John Phillips Sousa concert as festive lights burned brightly from her branches. The Southern Live Oak a hearty tree despite her age and has always had someone to look after her.

"I've been taking care of the Treaty Oak since 1980," said tree surgeon Early Piety. He mows around the tree and cleans out any of the deadwood. But other than that he leaves this stately landmark alone. "The biggest thing about taking care of a tree like this is not to love it to death. A lot of people say we got to trim this and we got to fertilize it and we got to do this. No you don't. Trees have been on this earth 65 million years and us modern tree guys who think we know what we're doing has been around 100. So who do you think is smarter? The tree."

The tree had her name changed from Giant Oak to Treaty Oak thanks to a newspaper reporter who conjured up a story that a treaty was signed under her branches. "The idea that the Seminole Indians signed their only peace treaty with the white man was made up by a newspaper reporter named Moran back in the forties. That's because there was a move afoot to cut down the tree and develop the site for office buildings," said local historian Wayne Wood.

Now Treaty Oak is saved for good. Philanthropist Jesse Ball duPont bought the property around the tree in the 60's and donated the land to the city for use as a public park to keep it away from developers. A boardwalk was then built to keep people off the tree's roots.

Over the years, as the Oak got older and bigger, its branches reached down to the ground giving it more stability. It's a home for nature, the site of many weddings and for some, according to Piety, their final resting place. "I also know of several people's ashes that are here. People who grew up in Jacksonville that when they were cremated said put me under the Treaty Oak. So the family would bring them all around here. So they live in the Treaty Oak now."

Treaty Oak, the stately sentry looking over Jacksonville's Southbank. A Landmark Legend for all to enjoy.

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