Community leaders, school alumni, parents and hundreds of students attended the replacement planting of the historic oak tree Friday in front of Fair Street School in Gainesville.
“The tree was a landmark, a type of legacy that was passed down through generations,” said Linda Hutchins, a Fair Street alumna. “My mother and father graduated from Fair Street School in the ’40s and the tree was here then.
“May Day and other celebrations occurred under that tree, children played under that tree and even a few romantic trysts occurred under the tree.”
The old tree was estimated to be between 200 and 400 years old and stood about 13 feet in circumference, according to Dave Shumake, former assistant superintendent for the Gainesville Board of Education and project administrator for the rebuilding of Fair Street. After the tree endured two lightning strikes and lost a number of limbs, the school system commissioned two arborist to evaluate it.
It was taken down in November after the studies determined it to be a hazard.
“We found a lot of limbs that had fallen out of the tree, and a lot of people played under it,” Shumake said. “For safety reasons, we felt like we needed to remove it, and now we are replacing it.”
The replacement tree is the same species, the white oak, and was donated by the Hall County conservation group the Rebud Project. It is currently about 3 years old and came from Soque River Watershed Association in Habersham County, according to Redbud executive director Margaret Rasmussen.
According to the The University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the white oak likely is the most common tree in North Georgia. Its acorns serve as a food source for turkeys, squirrels, rabbits and ducks.
The old tree withstood some of Gainesville’s most significant historical events such as the devastating tornado that leveled the city in 1936, as well as the many historic phases Fair Street School underwent. It remained a fixture in the community throughout many changes.
“This is a walking community,” said Thomas Hailey, vice president of the Fair Street-Butler High Schools Alumni Association. “People would come by and you would see them sometimes just stop and rest under that tree.
“When we found out the tree was going to be cut down, people started reminiscing about what the tree meant to them. We hated to see it go, but we’re looking forward to this new tree, which will serve in the same capacity.”
Most of the school’s 630 students attended as community members, alumni and Redbud members spoke about the significance of the tree. A wedge of the old tree was emblazoned with the date and is currently on display in Fair Street’s Heritage Hall. Pieces of its bark were handed out to students as a keepsake.
“Ending are always sad, but then there is a chance for new beginnings,” Gainesville School Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said during her speech. “Many of your parents grew up under that tree, and now it is your turn to grow up under our new tree.”