UPDATE: Civil War-era oak tree falls at Baylor - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Civil War-era oak tree falls at Baylor

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE:  It's the fall of a century-old tradition at Baylor.

"It's just part of our campus, really," said grounds superintendent Lance Parker.

Parker is talking about the school's iconic red oak tree that fell on Monday night.

The tree was one of the biggest in the state, and the oldest in Hamilton County. After standing for nearly 200 years, days of rain finally caused it to fall.

"I'm a tree man. I don't want any tree to go down," said Parker who has cared for the 100-ft. tall tree for 21 years.

"Everybody really has a fond liking to it," he said.

"It's kind of the school monument to me," student Cain Hawkins said. "It's just been a landmark."

"When I first came to Baylor, it was one of the places I just found so beautiful," said student Katilyn Lankford.

"It's been a famous tree for a long time," said woodworking instructor, Pete Robinson. He was hired in 1986.

"It was one of the first things people pointed out to me when I came on campus for an interview," he explained.

Artifacts found near the tree's roots in the 90's show the tree survived the Civil War. It also weathered deadly tornadoes in 2011.

"You could actually see the trunk straining a little bit against the wind," Robinson said. "That's how powerful the wind was, and how strong the tree was."

Crews were working all day on Tuesday to clean up the fallen tree.

"It's hard for me to see it, yeah," Parker said.

Students were snapping their final photos of the tree on their way to classes.

"To see that tree go that I've spent so many hours reading under it, it's just heartbreaking to me," said Lankford.

"Sad to see it go. But, it's old," Hawkins agreed.

"I guess that's the way it goes. I guess death is part of life," Robinson said.

School officials hope to use some of the tree's wood to make benches or tabletops. Eventually, they will plant a new tree in the old one's place.

The tree damaged the roof of the Ireland Studio Arts Center. While repairs are necessary, school officials say the structure is still sound and safe for students to attend classes.


PREVIOUS STORY: A mighty oak, believed to be the oldest of its kind in Hamilton County and among the oldest in the state of Tennessee, fell Monday night at the Baylor School campus.

The tree, located between the Roddy Performing Arts Center and the Ireland Studio Arts Center, the tree was infected with crown gall for several years and was slowly dying according to Barbara Kennedy of the school.

The exact age of the tree is unknown, but a measurement that was done approximately ten years ago recorded its circumference at 18 feet, 4 inches, with a height of 107 feet, and an average crown spread of 20 feet. 

The measurements were applied to a champion tree formula provided by the Tennessee Forestry Department, and the tree earned the distinction of being the largest red oak in Hamilton County and the second largest in the state.

According to a 2005 Baylor magazine article, archeological records provided by Alexander Archeological Consultants in Chattanooga indicate that the Federal Cavalry Brigade was possibly camped in the vicinity of the tree in October 1863 after the Battle of Chickamauga. A regiment was also camped at the site to defend a potential Confederate advance across Williams Island. The records state that “… the location of the William’s Island Ferry crossing has not been specified in the Civil War documents. However, we can reasonably conclude that it was located on the Baylor campus near the Big Oak.”

Further evidence that the tree was already large at the time of the Civil War came in 1991 and 1992, when retired faculty member Bill Tatum led a group of Baylor students in conducting a two-year archaeological dig beneath the tree. A variety of Civil War era artifacts were unearthed, including shell casings, glass bottles, a bridle ring, and a soapstone die.

“As we remove the tree, we will save as much as possible to be recycled in ways both artistic and historic.  We are committed that this great tree's legacy will be sustained,” said Baylor School headmaster Scott Wilson.  

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