The Legend of the Tree That Owns Itself

The Tree That Owns Itself lives on a quiet street in Athens, Georgia. Robyn Kingsley/Flickr

Looking for unusual sights to visit this year? Then why not travel to Athens, Georgia, to visit the world's only tree that legally owns itself?

Known as the Tree That Owns Itself, this unique white oak tree is legendary because it has legal ownership of itself and the eight feet of land that surround its base.

How did this come to pass? Legend has it that a gentleman named professor W.H. Jackson enjoyed the shade the tree provided so much that he deeded it to itself in his will when he died on or around 1832 (accounts vary on the exact date). Jackson's supposed sentiment is expressed on a stone tablet that was erected beside the tree:

"For and in consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and all land within eight feet of the tree on all sides. — William H. Jackson"

Jackson's act of generosity may or may not be the truth. It was first reported in the Athens Weekly Banner in 1890, long after Jackson had passed, and past the time when many in the neighborhood would even remember. Was the story true, local folklore or an invention by the Weekly Banner? That answer appears to be lost to time.

Whether or not the tree owns itself doesn't really matter. The tree and the entire Dearing Street Historic District were added to the National Register of Historic Places as an important historic site in 1975.

Interestingly, the original tree that marked the location fell in 1942 during a bout of strong wind. The current tree is its progeny, grown from an acorn from the first tree and planted in 1946 and now under the care of the Junior Ladies Garden Club of Athens. The tree is sometimes referred to at the Son of the Tree That Owns Itself.

If all of this inspires you, head to Athens, home of the University of Georgia. You'll find the Tree That Owns Itself at the corner of South Finley and Dearing streets. (And there's plenty more to see there.)

Not traveling to Georgia any time soon? You can always befriend the tree on Facebook. It doesn't post very often, but then again, it is 65 years old.