“Big Oak is really big.”
Someone once wrote these profound words on the back of a photograph to describe what may be one of the oldest single living things in the entire city of Jacksonville. “Big Oak,” now known as “Treaty Oak,” is an enormous Southern live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) estimated to be well over two centuries old. It’s located in Jacksonville’s Jessie Ball duPont Park, parts of which were once known as the Dixieland Amusement Park.
The tree appears in a variety of photos and postcards in the Florida Photographic Collection, although the “Treaty Oak” appellation doesn’t really appear to have taken hold until the 1930s. Most historians ascribe the new name to an effort by Florida Times-Union reporter Pat Moran and the local Garden Club to drum up public interest in preserving the tree. Eager to play up its significance, Moran explained that the old oak had borne witness to a number of agreements between Native Americans and white settlers.
Given the tree’s impressive size (and apparent age), the story isn’t difficult to believe. The majestic oak’s trunk is over 25 feet in circumference, and its branches grow to over 70 feet in height, which creates a circle of shade about 190 feet in diameter. One report from the 1950s suggested that over 3,000 persons could find shade under the tree at the same time.
Moran’s efforts to preserve the tree were noble, but funding would be required to secure the land around the tree and provide proper protections. Jessie Ball duPont and the Alfred I duPont Trust took action in the 1930s by purchasing much of the land surrounding the tree. In the 1960s, the duPont interests donated the land to the City of Jacksonville with the understanding that it could only be used for a public park having the tree’s continued preservation as one of its goals. The park was initially called “Treaty Oak Park,” but it was later renamed for Jessie duPont to honor her efforts to preserve the historic tree.
Jacksonville’s “Treaty Oak” is just one of many famous trees and other living legends around the Sunshine State. Search the Florida Photographic Collection for images of these landmarks, and tell us about your favorites by sharing them on Facebook or Twitter and dropping us a comment.