Hidden Treasures: Athens is home to The Tree That Owns Itself

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Strange tourist attractions can add spice to any family road trip, whether one is searching for The Monument to the Hog in Alabama or Florida’s Airstream Ranch. If you know where to look in Athens, you can find the unusual spectacle of a tree that doubles as its own landowner.

The Treasure: The Tree That Owns Itself is a white oak also known as the Jackson Oak. The tree is actually the offspring of the original tree that owns itself, as the original met its match during a wind storm in 1942. The tree may have been as old as 400 years old when it fell victim to the storm.

Background: So how exactly does a tree come to be its own owner? It all starts with a man named Col. William Henry Jackson, who is said to have a “great love” for this tree, though it is unclear exactly why this tree was so special to him.

Jackson had deep roots in Georgia. His father was James Jackson, a Revolutionary War soldier and former Governor of Georgia. Jackson himself was a well respected professor at the University of Georgia and his son, also James Jackson was a congressman and chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.

The same year Jackson sold the property the tree was once part of, Jackson decided to deed the tree and the land it stands on (8 feet on all sides of the tree) to the tree itself. Under normal circumstances such a plot would fall flat on its face and the gag wouldn’t go anywhere.

However, keep in mind that Jackson is a well-respected man from an equally well-respected and prestigious family. So, while you legally can’t deed something to an entity that is unable to receive such deed, if you’re eccentric enough and influential enough, folks might go along with it — and in this case, they did. The physical corner the tree stands on does not appear on any current deeds or plats and the Athens-Clark County government considers the tree its rightful owner. The county serves as its caretaker and the local garden club is the tree’s advocate.

The dedication plaque at the site of The Tree That Owns Itself.

From Father to Son: As we mentioned earlier, Col. Jackson’s beloved tree succumbed to a violent windstorm in 1942. However, the tree had become such a local legend that the Athens’ Junior Ladies Garden Club decided to plant a new tree on the same plot of land grown from the original tree’s acorns. In 1946, the son of the Tree That Owns Itself was officially dedicated. The tree is treated as the heir of the original tree and has the same rights to the property as its father.

Actual Ownership: So, does the tree actually own itself? Legally, a tree can’t own land. However, the tree stands on what is a public right-of-way and the public in Athens has decided that this tree is a self-made, self-owned entity, and the local government and the trees neighbors don’t dispute that.

Where to find it: The tree is open to the public and can be found at the intersection of South Finley and Dearing Streets in Athens.