The Old Oak



Fallen Oak Still Stands

  •  Residents remember a mighty oak that once received nationwide attention in a local conservation campaign.


ALBANY On the night of June 12, 1997, the chain saws sounded as angry as bees in a tin can.

And five years ago this morning, the Friendship Oak that stirred sit-ins and legal battles was gone from the intersection of Jefferson Street and Philema Road.

"Five years? Has it been that long?" asked Dewey Parkman, whose son, Wayne, an Atlanta businessman, bought the tree's remains for $1,000 at auction shortly after the tree was felled.

Today much of those remains lie in a shady spot in front of The LakeHouse restaurant, about 200 yards from where the tree stood for what many people still argue was 300 years.

One large gnarled chunk of nubs as big around as an elephant's foot lays on its side, tilts a little and still stands as a seven-foot tall reminder.

"We're going to leave it right there," said Debbie Santos, who now co-owns the restaurant with her husband Steve. "Most people don't even know it's there. When you tell people what it is, they want to go out there and take a look at it."

The tree and the fight which began in 1992 to spare it from a road-widening project became a national media obsession.

For the next five years, petitions and bumper stickers popped up across Southwest Georgia. Tree supporters tied up the fight in court, held sit-ins on limbs, wrote songs and stumped for reporters who came here from throughout the country.

In 1993, one couple married under the tree and divorced before it was cut down, the man's new wife said Wednesday.

Shortly after the tree was felled in June 1997, portions of it were sold to help fund a bone marrow transplant for "Baby Hannah," a local 1-year-old toddler who suffered from a rare, fatal, early infancy tumor, according to published reports. She died less than two months later from complications arising from that transplant.

When the Department of Transportation presented a historical study that said the tree was only about 120 years old, arguments that the tree was both a nuisance and an invaluable part of history became moot when U.S. District Court Judge Louis Sands ruled that the tree could come down.

Today, no monument, no plaque, not even an acorn exists to indicate the oak was even there.

But people remember it.

"When we give directions to the restaurant," Santos said "we ask them, 'Do you know where the Friendship Oak was?' "

Maybe she should ask if people know where the oak is.

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