At the intersection of Dearing Street and Finley Street, in a quiet residential neighborhood near downtown Athens, in the state of Georgia, the US, stands a white oak tree that might be the strangest property owner in the world. For nearly two centuries, this tree is believed to have owned itself and a small patch of land surrounding its base.
The story of its ownership goes back to 1890 when it was first reported in a local newspaper. According to the article published, the property originally belonged to one Colonel William Henry Jackson, who had such true love for the tree, that he devised a way that would ensure the tree survived long after he was gone. So sometime between 1820 and 1832, Col. Jackson prepared a deed that transferred the tree’s ownership to itself and all of the land within eight feet of its trunk on all sides.
The deed is said to have 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.
The only person who has ever claimed to have seen Jackson’s deed to the tree is the anonymous author of the newspaper article. It’s not known whether there was any attempt to determine the veracity of the claim or the identity of the author, but everybody came to accept that the deed existed but was lost.
William H. Jackson did, in fact, own the property on the opposite side of Dearing Street from the tree, but there is some confusion whether the tree belonged to Jackson’s property. Jackson later sold the property in 1832, the same year cited on a plaque as being the date of the tree's deed. The tree’s current location actually encroaches a part of the property at 125 Dearing Street, and falls within the right-of-way of Finley Street. However, the tree’s ownership is so well recognized by the public, the Athens-Clarke County officially recognizes that the tree, in spite of the law, does indeed own itself
The original oak no longer lives. It became diseased, and fell during a windstorm in 1942. The tree was over 100 feet (30 m) tall, and was estimated to be between 150 and 400 years old when it fell. For four year, the small plot remained vacant. Then the Athens’ Junior Ladies Garden Club found a sapling growing from an acorn of the original tree and planted it there. This tree is sometimes referred to as the “Son of The Tree That Owns Itself.”
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