Episcopal bids farewell to oldest living thing on campus New Live Oak to be planted in same location

Episcopal bids farewell to oldest living thing on campus New Live Oak to be planted in same location
Class of 1973 poses at the Great Oak.

Episcopal School of Jacksonville announced early in December that the Great Oak tree, which has stood at the center of the School’s campus since its founding in 1966, must be removed. The School was purposely designed by architects around the tree in the 1960s.

The Great Oak is of an indeterminate age, but is likely several hundred years old. It was already considered ancient when Mary Packer Cummings (daughter of Asa Packer, founder of Lehigh University) built her home in the 1880s on what is now the School’s campus. Her estate, called Keystone Bluff, was visited several times by the brother (John) of William Cullen Bryant, who placed a bronze plaque on the tree containing a verse from Bryant’s poem “A Forest Hymn.”

According to school officials, damage, rot and decay has been ongoing and cannot be halted. The Board of Trustees regretfully endorsed a decision to remove the tree, which occurred during the recent school break.
“If there had been any other alternative, we would have found one,” said Head of School Charley Zimmer.
There are plans to use the wood from the Great Oak in some form within the community. “We know how meaningful and important this area of campus is to our community,” said Zimmer.

A chaplain-led service for students, faculty and staff was held on Dec. 12 in the area near the Great Oak.  Photo by Laura Evans

A chaplain-led service for students, faculty and staff was held on Dec. 12 in the area near the Great Oak.
Photo by Laura Evans

During the school’s Christmas break the Great Oak was removed and in its place a 35-foot Live Oak was planted. Tree experts removed the stump and roots of the ancient oak, created a substantial hole for the replacement tree, which was lifted over the plaza by a crane and placed into the hole. Soil testing, new soil placement, special fertilizer and irrigation – and many prayers – are part of the plan to help the Live Oak adapt to its new home.

Although the view will be significantly altered when students return to campus on Jan. 5, in years to come perhaps the new tree will become a ‘mighty oak.’

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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