landmark tree

Photo by Tom Simpson

Andrew Johnson Willows, Greeneville

Nominated by Jim Cortese
Added in 2012

These nationally famous willows are located at the old home site of President Andrew Johnson in Greeneville, now a national historic site. The original tree was grown from a slip of the willow tree at the grave of Napoleon on the Island of St. Helena. Captain William Francis Lynch, a naval officer and explorer, harvested the slip while touring the West Indies in the 1850s. On his return he gave the slip to then-Congressman Andrew Johnson, who planted it near the old gum spring at the rear of his residence.

One section of the willow was presented to the National Historical Grove in Anacostia Park, Washington, D.C., on April 21, 1934.

The trees growing on the home site were planted from scion wood, harvested from the original tree. In 1976 the willows were listed in the American Forests’ book Famous and Historic Trees by Charles Randall and Henry Clepper.

Photo by Tom Simpson

landmark tree

Birthing Tree, McMinnville

Nominated by Nick Kuhn
Added in 2000

Standing as a silent sentinel to the town, this enormous white oak (Quercus alba) welcomes travelers into the city of McMinnville. While only 81 feet tall, the crown spreads 130 feet, with several of the lower limbs larger than many trees. However it is not its size that gives this white oak notoriety; the Birthing Tree is steeped in local folklore.

The tree was a local landmark for settlers passing through the area. Travelers from North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia would journey through Knoxville on the Old Kentucky Trail. These trails converged at Rock Island (the closest city at that time) and then passed under the spreading branches of this giant tree before continuing south to Alabama. The huge oak was a well-known meeting place for these weary travelers. Some waited for long periods of time for fellow settlers to join them. Others lingered because of bad weather or lack of supplies.

Many local families also recount stories of grandparents who knew someone born at the tree due to the extended delays. At one time it was even thought to have been part of the infamous "Trail of Tears" on the march to Oklahoma, although local historians discount this. However, the tree has been known for over 150 years is the subject of numerous local stories and rumors. Many family meetings have been held at the tree.

The Birthing Tree stands across the street from the McMinnville River Park Hospital at 1559 Sparta Highway (Hwy. 70) on a private residence. The owners donated the tree to the City of McMinnville in 2012.

landmark tree

Carahills Family Sycamore, Gallaway

Nominated by Carrie Nivens
Added in 2010

This grand old sycamore stands in Fayette County, near the town of Gallaway. It is a contender for the largest sycamore in the state at 17 feet in circumference and has been estimated to be 200 years old. Many Native American artifacts have been found beside the tree, leading most to consider it an early settlement tree. Most of the community remembers generations of cattle and farmers using the shade of the tree every summer.

The Carahills II Manor was developed adjacent to the tree so that couples could be married near the tree. The wedding chapel is quickly becoming the most known and desirable locations within the region. A public ceremony was held on March 5, 2010, at the tree and the town of Gallaway declared its first Arbor Day with a planting of a young sycamore. Mayor Nick Berretta presented a plaque naming the old sycamore The Carahills II Family Tree.

landmark tree

Cedar Lane Cedars, Knoxville

Nominated by Jim Cortese
Added in 2001

When Knoxvillian James McMillan planted red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) trees along both sides of his 600-acre farm in 1844, he never envisioned that they would survive to become a living legacy of the area. Only about ten of the cedars remain today, but they form a streetscape for the road named after McMillan’s efforts, Cedar Lane.

Well-known by most Fountain City residents, these 150-year-old cedars were honored in the 1994 Knoxville Dogwood Arts Festival as the finest example of old cedar trees in Knox County. The largest cedars of the group line Cedar Lane in front of St. Joseph’s School.

landmark tree

Cherokee Oak,
Putnam County

Nominated by Rebecca Gay Lane
and Patrick Haller
Added in 2008

The old white oak (Quercus alba) stands on the Old Walton Road, one of only two known roads in Middle Tennessee that 19th-century pioneers used as wagon roads. (The other road was the Chattanooga-McMinnville Road.) The Old Walton Road ran between Brotherton and Buck Mountain and became part of the Trail of Tears route in 1830.

According to local legend a full-blooded Cherokee woman, Frances Hammock, escaped from soldiers after her wagon broke down by hiding in a cave nearby. She later married Isaac Swallows, and they made their home in Brotherton. Their union would result in hundreds of descendants in the Upper Cumberlands, many of them who live there today.

The tree also became a regular resting site for the famous Willis Hyder, one of the last U.S. mail horseback carriers, and was featured in a 1947 Nashville Tennessean article. Hyder and his horses carried the mail on his 26-mile route from 1908 until his retirement in the early 1950s.

Photo by Regina Merit

landmark tree

Elm, Norris

Nominated by Norris
Tree Commission
Added in 2007

Within the English Commons of the city of Norris stands this magnificent American elm (Ulmus americana). Planted by TVA in mid-1930 when the town was built and landscaped, the tree is over 80 years old and stands some 83 feet over the Commons. Through careful maintenance and pruning, the tree has survived the ravages of Dutch Elm disease and weather.

This tree remains a hallmark tree for the community with the Norris Middle School in the background. The Norris Tree Commission is responsible for its care and protection. Norris was the first planned community in the country. It was the first Tree City USA in Tennessee when certified in 1979. Max Young, State Forester, presented the Tree City flag within the shadow of this elm in 1980.

Photo by Tom Simpson

landmark tree

DeLap Cemetery Civil War Beech, Jacksboro

Nominated by Campbell County Historical Society
Added in 2008

During the Civil War, the 58th North Carolina Confederate Regiment was assigned to guard The Big Creek Gap of the Cumberland Mountains (now the towns of LaFollette and Jacksboro). The regiment suffered greatly from diseases in the bitter winter of 1862–1863. Some 52 soldiers were buried in an old DeLap family cemetery overlooking the Powell Valley. Within that cemetery, the old American beech (Fagus grandiflora) was carved with a slash for each of the soldiers interred there. Curiously, the tree also bears the carving of the word "Boothill."

The graves were marked with jagged fieldstones or sunken plots and the cemetery was almost lost to neglect. In 2002 the Campbell County Historical Society re-discovered the cemetery and began a five-year project to restore it. The cemetery was thoroughly cleaned of brush and new markers were placed on the graves, after research into the regimental records on the identities of the soldiers. The beech was discovered still standing as a silent sentinel to the final resting place of these young men.

The cemetery is designated as a memorial Civil War Cemetery and stands on a hill overlooking the town of Jacksboro on DeLap Lane.

The grove includes cedars, baldcypress, and gingkos. Photos by Harmony Adoptions

landmark tree

Montvale Springs Tree Grove, Maryville

Nominated by Evelyn Wilcox
Added in 2012

Few areas of East Tennessee are as well-known as Montvale Springs, on the side of Chilhowee Mountain. The original log hotel on the site was built in 1832 and was situated near the famous spring by its namesake. Novelist Charles Todd wrote Woodville here, the first novel published in Tennessee. In 1853 Asa Watson razed the log hotel and constructed a much larger and more elegant three-story frame building with seven gables. The hotel stood over 200 feet long and numerous cottages were built nearby.

The 1850s grove contains cedars, baldcypress, and gingkos. Watson imported rare trees from Japan and California, such as the gingkoes, and planted them in the 10 to 20 acres of the grounds. Many of these trees stand on the property today. The hotel was purchased in 1857 by the grandfather of the famous Southern poet Sidney Lanier, who spent much of his boyhood at the resort, where he wrote his only novel, Tiger Lilies, and one hymn, Into the Woods My Master Went.

Photo courtesy of Blount County Archives

The Montvale Springs Hotel was the leading antebellum mineral springs resort in East Tennessee and the only major resort hotel built in the mountains of Blount County prior to the Civil War. It was so well known it was often referred to as the Saratoga of the South. The famous Great Smoky Mountains geologist, Arnold Guyot, also spent time in 1859 while he calculated the heights of all the peaks. Mount Guyot is named in his honor.

The hotel burned in 1896, was rebuilt in 1898, and burned again in 1933. In 1947 the YMCA purchased the 364-acre property for use as a summer camp and ran successfully one of the best known camps in the region for 59 years. The camp closed in 2005 and Harmony Family Center purchased the property in 2011.

landmark tree

Old Forest of Overton Park, Memphis

Nominated by the City of Memphis (Memphis Park Services Division), Park Friends, Inc., and the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park
Added in 2008

A true island of green surrounded by urban sprawl, the Old Forest of Overton Park stands within the city of Memphis and is a testament to the protection and preservation attitudes of a people.

Once part of the old-growth virgin forest that formed Chickasaw Bluffs, "Lea's Woods" was at one time over 342 acres and was named for Overton and Ella Lea of Nashville. Overton Lea was a grandson of John Overton, the founder of Memphis in 1819 with Andrew Jackson and James Winchester. At the time Memphis acquired the tract for the public good in 1901, the Old Forest was 200 acres.

Overton Park was designed by the renowned landscape architect George E. Kessler and was listed on the National Historic Register in 1979. While Overton Park contains the Brooks Museum of Art, the Memphis College of Art, the Memphis Zoo, the Levitt Shell, Veteran's Plaza, the Greensward, two playgrounds and the Overton Park Golf Course, the Old Forest remains an oasis of natural ecosystems. It contains more than 330 plant species, with some of the trees exceeding 200 years of age. Some 160 bird species have been also been found frequenting the forest. Public trails wind through the tract and guided nature walks are provided every month. A network of citizen groups helps the city manage the Old Forest, including Citizens to Preserve Overton Park and Park Friends, Inc.

Overton Park also became nationally significant in 1971 for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe, which pitted the Federal Highway Administration, which wanted to build Interstate 40 through the park, against local desires to maintain the natural ecosystem. After they lost two court cases, including in the 6th Circuit Court, the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Supreme Court, and the result became a landmark administrative law case that has been cited in thousands of legal opinions across the nation. It was one of the few times that a non-profit organization won against a federal agency.

Although the Old Forest is now only 150 acres today, it remains a priceless resource for the community and the region.

The Old Oak is just behind the building in the modern and historic photos. Photos courtesy of Tusculum College Archives

landmark tree

Old Oak of Tusculum College, Greeneville

Nominated by Dollie Boyd
Added in 2012

The Old Oak stands 100 feet tall, with a circumference of 23 feet and a spread of 110 feet. The tree is between 250 to 300 years old.

The Old Oak has been a defining feature of the college campus since the founding of the school in 1794. The Reverend Samuel W. Doak, one of the founders, chose to build the oldest academic building on campus in the shade of the tree in 1841. Referred to now as the Old College Building, it houses the President Andrew Johnson Museum and Library. During the Civil War the school was almost shut down because of the divided loyalties of the students. Various items were hung from the tree depicting some of the passions of the day, including hanging an effigy of Andrew Johnson, and a Confederate flag was displayed from the Old College building.

Tusculum College survived the Reconstruction period of East Tennessee and absorbed the nearby Greeneville College in 1867. In the 1970s the college hosted an Old Oak Festival for more than a dozen years, and after a period of absence brought back the event in 2011 for all the alumni.

Photo by Steve Roark

landmark tree

Samuel Smith White Pine, Montgomery County

Nominated by Rob Niemann
Added in 2003

In 1832, Samuel Smith, at the age of 70, brought a party of 350 settlers, including his family, through the Cumberland Gap to settle in Tennessee. He was given 1,000 acres of land as a pension in Montgomery County by his grateful country for his service in the Revolutionary War, particularly in the Battle of Brier Creek, Georgia.

In his saddlebags were six white pine seedlings from his native state of North Carolina, which he planted on his home site, now on the Fort Campbell Army Base. One of the white pines still stands there, overlooking his grave within the Samuel Smith Cemetery, and its 135-foot height serves today as a landmark for the helicopter pilots.

In 1976, in honor of the U.S. Bicentennial celebrations, soldiers from Fort Campbell expended 3,500 man-hours, 500 equipment hours, and about $5,000 worth of materials to clean the gravesite, where they held a ceremony of dedication to the old soldier. A large bronze plaque stands near the tall white pine in tribute to Samuel Smith’s contributions to his country.

The Samuel Smith White Pine is located off Engineer Road, on US Department of Defense property.

landmark tree

Wright Forest Natural Area, Johnson County

Nominated by Dennis Testerman
Added in 1998

The Wright Forest Natural Area is the only known example of an extensive white pine and hemlock pre-settlement forest, which originally covered much of the floor of Shady Valley in Johnson County. It is part of a working "century farm," having been in the same Wright family from a land grant dating to the late 1700s. One of the earliest stewards of this farm was Celia Brown Cole, daughter of the original settler in Shady Valley.

Shady Valley was extensively logged at the turn of the 20th century, with white pine yields from the forests exceeding 100,000 board feet per acre, reportedly the highest yields ever reported anywhere for this species. The Wright Forest Natural Area is the only known remnant of this original forest and covers 15 acres. Many of the white pines and hemlocks now growing in the forest exceed 140 years of age. One noted tree, felled by natural causes, was reported to have been over 200 years old.

The forest was included on the Tennessee Register of Natural Areas, under the Natural Areas Preservation Act in 1980. The Society of American Foresters included the Wright Forest Natural Area on its national Natural Areas Register in 1985, one of only six such white pine-hemlock areas in the country. The Wright Forest Natural Area is on a private farm in Shady Valley, Johnson County.

The Tennessee Landmark and Historic Tree Registry recognizes noteworthy trees or groves for their significance to Tennessee communities, the state, and the nation.

A Landmark Tree must be commonly recognized as an established and familiar feature of the community, confirmed as a significant part of the community's heritage, or planted to commemorate special events or community leaders more than 50 years ago.

Nomination form

State Division of Forestry Tennessee Champion Trees

historic tree

Alvin C. York Wedding Beech Grove, Pall Mall

Nominated by Jim Cortese and Steve Roark
Added in 2003

Situated on a ridge overlooking the Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf River in Fentress County, a beech grove stands as a living monument to one of Tennessee's best-loved sons, Sgt. Alvin York. Alvin York became one of America's most celebrated military heroes for capturing 132 German soldiers in the Argonne Forest of France on October 18, 1918. Sergeant York's remarkable feat was rewarded with more than 40 Allied decorations, including the Congressional Medal of Honor and the French Croix de Guerre. He returned home a national hero and captured the hearts of the nation.

On June 7, 1919, he married his long-time sweetheart, Gracie Williams, on the family farm overlooking the Wolf River. The Governor of Tennessee, A.H. Roberts, performed the wedding in front of a crowd of hundreds, many of them traveling two days or more to witness the famous event. The ceremony was held on a series of rock ledges that formed a spacious amphitheater surrounded by large beech trees.

Remnants of that original beech grove remain there today, the largest being over 108 inches in girth. Many of the trees have suffered from storm damage and the ravages of time but still stand as witnesses to this historic event.

The beech grove is on family-owned property not far from the Alvin York burial site and Highway 127 in Pall Mall.

historic tree

Photo by Tom Simpson

Andrew Lytle
Dawn Redwoods, Monteagle

Nominated by Susie Ries
Added in 2006

On the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly in Monteagle stands a grove of some of the oldest known trees in the world. The dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) has been found in fossils dating back 100 million years ago and was once native to most of North America. It was thought to be extinct until some trees were found growing in a remote valley in central China. In 1947 the Arnold Arboretum sponsored an expedition to the area and the collected seeds were brought back to share with nurseries, some of which found their way to the McMinnville nursery industry.

Native Tennessean Andrew Lytle, a literary giant who helped form the famous Southern Agrarian Writers, lived in his ancestral log home in Monteagle and taught for both the University of the South and Vanderbilt University. In 1964 Lytle planted the dawn redwoods in memory of his wife, Edna Barker Lytle, in front of the Harton Dining Hall on the MSSA grounds. The trees are recognized within the community as unique and culturally significant and have become a living tribute to the accomplishments and genius of Andrew Lytle,who was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for his book The Velvet Horn.

historic tree

Battle of Nashville
Basket Oak

Nominated by James Sommerville
Added in 1999

On December 15–16, 1864, the Battle of Nashville was fought on a 1,500-acre tract of land known as the "Noel Place" the residence of Oscar Fitzallen Noel and Sallie T. Noel. Both armies of the conflict occupied portions of the farm; the Confederates constructed breastworks diagonally through Noel Place and Federal cannons heavily damaged the residence. When the Southern troops fell back the Federals took possession of the house and converted it to a field hospital.

The basket oak (Quercus michauxii) on the farm was documented through the years to have been a large tree during the Battle of Nashville. It now stands in the Battle of Nashville Monument Park on a 2.5-acre tract bounded by Battlefield Drive, Granny White Pike, and Clifton Lane. Interstate 440 currently runs within 500 yards of the tree and the site is owned by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. A tall monument stands near the tree, recognizing those who clashed there in 1864.

historic tree

Bonny Oaks Willow Oak, Chattanooga

Nominated by Kelly Jackson
Added in 2000

The Bonny Oaks willow oak (Quercus phellos) stands in Hamilton County on land once occupied by the Cherokee Indians. Col. Lewis Shepherd originally settled in the area and in 1840, Col. Jarrett G. Dent built the Dent House (now on the National Historic Register) on the property.

Various owners have given this property its rich history, including Captain C.C. Peak, who in 1867 named the property "Bonnie Oaks" for the stately oak trees that surrounded the homestead. This willow oak dates back prior to the 1854 Bonnie Oaks Orphanage, which was originally established to teach agrarian skills to children and included a working farm.

The enormous tree now sits on property owned by the Hamilton County Parks Department and is located at 6183 Adamson Circle, off I-75, exit # 7B, in Chattanooga.

Photos by Tom Simpson

historic tree

Daniel Boone Beech, Madison County

Nominated by Jim and the Reverend Richard Cortese
Added in 2004

This rather large beech tree overlooks an old Chickasaw Indian trail that once ran near the Middle Fork of the Forked Deer River. According to historic researchers, this tree is the only known remaining tree in Tennessee that contains carvings from Daniel Boone, which date back to 1776.

In addition to Daniel's carvings are those of his brother, Edward Boone, and a family friend, Micajah Callaway, known frequent companions of Boone's early exploration and hunting trips. The early pioneer symbols carved on this tree also give credibility to the time period and provide evidence of good trapping on the nearby river, an important point for early settlers.

The tree has been aged at over 500 years old, and stands in a soybean field on Old Medina Road in Madison County.

Photo by Steve Roark

Four Seasons Hotel (Middlesboro Daily News, July 2, 1976)

historic tree

Four Seasons Ginkgoes, Harrogate

Nominated by Steve Roark, Harrogate Tree Board
Added in 2009

Lincoln Memorial University's four large gingkoes (Ginkgo biloba) were included in the 1892 landscaping plans of the grand and glorious Four Seasons Hotel in Harrogate. Originally designed as a health resort and spa for the wealthy coal and iron businessmen of nearby Middlesboro, Kentucky, this lavish hotel stood four stories high with 700 rooms and a 125-foot tower. The grand opening of this hotel on April 12, 1892, saw train-loads of distinguished visitors from Britain and the U.S., including names such as Vanderbilt and Roosevelt. Unfortunately, the famous hotel ended as soon as it began with the stock market crash later that year. The hotel closed within a year of its opening, and the building and its furnishings were sold for 1.9% of its original $1.5 million investment.

The 580 acres of land surrounding the hotel, near the historic Cumberland Gap, were sold in 1900 for the location of the Lincoln Memorial University. The town of Harrogate also began as a bedroom community to the wealthier Middlesboro, but the town and the college were soon inescapably linked. The gingkoes became famous landmarks for the college and span the origin of the town and LMU. The largest ginkgo of the group stands 90 feet tall and over 13 feet in circumference.

While ginkgo is considered by some as an introduced species, fossilized records dating back 250 million years ago indicated that the species commonly grew in Tennessee. The four trees at LMU are fine specimens of this old and forgotten family of trees.

The trees stand between Duke Hall and the Harold Finley Learning Resources Center on the LMU campus, off hwy 25-E on Mars DeBusk Parkway.

Moon Tree Sewanee

The Moon Tree sycamore at University of the South, Sewanee

historic trees

Moon Trees, Elizabethton, Knoxville, Sewanee

Nominated by
Tom Simpson
Added in 2013

On January 31, 1971, Apollo 14 lifted off from Cape Kennedy on its way to the moon. Aboard were Alan Shepard, Ed Mitchell, and Stuart Roosa. Each astronaut was allowed to take some personal items aboard, including Commander Alan Shepard’s historic golf club. Roosa, at one time a smoke-jumper with the U.S. Forest Service, took aboard some tree seeds to research the effects of weightlessness on the growth of plants. The seeds were from redwoods, Douglas firs, sycamores, loblolly pines, and sweetgums. While Shepard and Mitchell walked on the moon surface, Roosa flew the command module, Kitty Hawk, around the moon 34 times.

Tennessee Conservationist

The Tennessee Conservationist, Vol. XLII, June 1976, No. 5
Click to enlarge

Upon his return to Earth, Roosa gave the tree seeds to the Forest Service, where they were planted in nurseries in Mississippi and California. In 1976, seedlings were distributed to many states in celebration of the Bicentennial. Tennessee received four trees: two loblolly pines were replanted at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma and the UT Forestry Experiment Station, and two American sycamores were planted at the University of the South in Sewanee and at Sycamore Shoals State Park in Elizabethton. The Tullahoma pine died within two years, but the three remaining moon trees are still alive.

NASA keeps a record of the remaining trees from the Apollo 14 moon flight. Some 23 states in the country still list moon trees alive within their state: 31 sycamores, 11 loblolly pines, 10 redwoods, eight Douglas Firs, and two sweetgums still existing.

The Moon Tree sycamore at Sycamore Shoals State Park in Elizabethton

Max Young, state forester in 1976, said when he received the trees that “it was most appropriate that trees — among the oldest things in the world — play an important role in opening other new worlds in space.” Indeed, few trees in the state are more famous than these three: the ones who traveled around the moon and now grow in the soil of Earth in East and Middle Tennessee.

Photo by Tom Simpson

historic tree

White Oak, Murfreesboro

Nominated by Jim Stubblefield
Added in 2004

This white oak (Quercus alba) witnessed the occupation and encampment of the Federal forces (9th Michigan Infantry) under Col. William Duffield in 1862. On July 13, 1862, this unit surrendered, along with the entire Federal army around Murfreesboro, after a daylong battle with Confederate Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest's troopers. The wounded Colonel Duffield became a prisoner of war in the home of Major Lewis Maney (now the Oaklands Mansion), where Federal officers conferred about the imminent surrender.

In December 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Col. George W.C. Lee (son of Robert E. Lee) also visited the site prior to the Battle of Stones River. After that battle, Murfreesboro returned to Federal control for the remainder of the war.

This magnificent tree was aged to be over 250 years old and stands on the grounds of Oaklands Park, adjacent to the Oaklands Historic House Museum.

Photo by Dr. Richard Cornelius

historic tree

Scopes Trial Grove, Dayton

Nominated by
Dr. Richard Cornelius, Bryan College
Added in 2007

The small Dayton courthouse became one of the most famous scenes in history with the 1925 Scopes Trial. The trial pitted the three-time presidential candidate and famous creationist, William Jennings Bryan, against a well-known criminal lawyer, Clarence Darrow, and the ACLU in a test of the Tennessee anti-evolution law of the day. Local teacher, John T. Scopes, became the scapegoat in this epic eight day battle of legal drama. The trial attracted over 200 journalists and became one of the world's most famous court trials.

The Scopes Trial remains one of the most intriguing episodes in American history. In 1977 the National Park Service designated the courthouse as a National Historic Landmark and over one million dollars were spent in a restoration project.

Nine of the original trees that witnessed this epic event still survive within the courthouse lawn. These 90 year old trees are living reminders of the need to properly maintain and protect our national and state heritage.

Photo by Ken and Tiffany Markus

historic tree

Sycamore Valley Overlook Oak, Cheatham County

Nominated by Ken and Tiffany Markus
Added in 2012

This white oak stands on a hill overlooking the ruins of the Sycamore Powder Mill and surrounding village. The village started to grow in 1835 when Samuel Watson established the Sycamore Milling Company, which was powered by the nearby Sycamore Creek. At its height, over 100 families existed around the mill, which shifted from cotton and grist to blasting and black powder production.

In 1861 the Sycamore Mill was one of the two largest black powder operations in the South. After the fall of forts Henry and Donelson in 1862 the mill was controlled and then shut down by Union forces. Soldiers camped out along the ridge line near the Overlook Oak to prevent Southern forces from gaining control of the valuable powder mill.

In 1873 I.E. DuPont bought shares of the milling operation and brought the mill back to life. He hired E.C. Lewis, a civil engineer, to manage the milling operations. Lewis became influential in Nashville history, organizing the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, creating Centennial Park and the Parthenon. The Sycamore Mill was owned by the DuPonts until it closed in 1904. With it went most of the surrounding village, including all the millworks, the churches, the schools, the store, and all the homes except one. The last remaining home, built in the 1830s, is the one sheltered by the Overlook Oak. The tree is located on Highway 49 East near the present town of Ashland City.

Photo by Jim Arber

historic tree

Wildwood Stables Sycamore, Fairfield
Glade Resort

Nominated by
John Cannon
Added in 2012

This impressive tree stands 94 feet tall and 16 feet in circumference, with a crown spread of 165 feet. The sycamore forms the landscape for the Wildwood Horse Stables near Crab Orchard and is on the Fairfield Glades Resort. It was planted in 1864 from a sprout along nearby Daddy’s Creek near the Thomas Center home site.

Center became the first superintendent of schools for Cumberland County (his 13 children may have helped him earn the job) and the tree is located near the old Walton Road, which ran from Crab Orchard north of Crossville up towards Standing Stone. The road was started in 1795 and completed in 1802. Several famous people traveled the road, including Duke Louis Phillippe, later King of France. The home became a frequent stopping spot for travelers headed for Nashville and points west.

The house was built around 1859 and a local school chapel was later built close by. In 1986 the house was nominated for the National Register of Historical Homes. The original stables, along with several horses, were lost in a fire in 1985.

Today the sycamore is a landmark for the newer stables and is the subject of numerous artists, photographers and tourists. Newlyweds pledge their eternal love under the tree and school children who visit the stables always have their class picture taken there.

Witness Tree

historic tree

Witness Tree
of Richland Country Club

Nominated by
Parke Brown
Added in 2013

This stately bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), the oldest tree on the property, has witnessed progress, destruction, and vast changes in Middle Tennessee, standing just one hundred yards from the historical Granny White Pike. Buffalo passed the tree on their way to the Great French Lick in present-day downtown Nashville, and Creek, Cherokee, and Chickasaw hunters used it as shelter from heat and storms centuries ago. John Rains, one of Nashville’s earliest settlers, killed 32 bears in a year in the canebreaks near this tree in 1770. Travelers from Nashville to Franklin including Andrew Jackson, Thomas Hart Benton, John Overton, and John Lea went past this tree, and in 1849 the great oak saw the construction of the old buffalo path into Granny White turnpike.

The Battle of the Barricade

The bur oak witnessed perhaps its most dramatic sights on December 16, 1864. Late in the afternoon, the Confederate army was defeated at the Battle of Nashville and began a retreat from the main battlefield south on Granny White Pike. Confederate Colonel Ed Rucker, who commanded the 12th Tennessee Cavalry, was ordered to hold the pike “at all hazards” to block the Union Cavalry from capturing the retreating Confederates at Brentwood. General Edward Hatch ordered his United States Cavalry south on Granny White Pike and the 9th Illinois Cavalry and the 12th Tennessee Cavalry attacked Rucker’s Brigade near the Witness Tree. The Battle of the Barricade began nearby, and the fierce fighting continued around this tree and to the south before the hand-to-hand combat ended in the cold darkness.

Rucker was successful at a high price — he was wounded and captured with many of his men. On the same night, the victorious but exhausted U.S. Cavalry camped under the Witness Tree’s branches. General James Wilson and General Edward Hatch spent the night with the captured Rucker at the U.S. headquarters at the Tucker House within sight of this tree.

The Richland Witness Tree proudly stands watch over the club at the number nine gold tee. It is a long-lived tribute to those who have come and gone before us, lived their lives, and made their marks on American soil.

Witness Tree

The Tennessee Landmark and Historic Tree Registry recognizes noteworthy trees or groves for their significance to Tennessee communities, the state, and the nation.

A Historic Tree must have been a direct witness to a historic event or cultural movement that was significant nationally, regionally, or within the state and confirmed to date to that time.

Nomination form

Photo by Tom Simpson

heritage tree

Battle Creek Black Oak,

Nominated by Anne Crutcher, church clerk
Registered as Landmark Tree in 2005

This large black oak was part of a parcel of land given by James Watts in 1844 for construction of the Battle Creek Baptist Church. The church was named for the 1780 Indian massacre of a group of white settlers on the nearby Battle Creek. The one surviving member of the group, a widow named Betty Jones (grandmother of James Watts), hid in the forest for four days before being rescued by a hunter and taken to safety at Eaton's Station.

The church was organized in 1845 and some of the property was utilized as a community cemetery. In 1872, Timothy and Mary Demonbreun, son of Jacques Timothy Demonbreun, the first white man to live in Nashville and establish a business, donated an additional parcel of land for a school house and extra cemetery space, requesting that the land also be used for a Sabbath worship every month for the Methodist Order, the Cumberland Presbyterian Order, and the Baptist Order in the community.

The property became a meeting place for several churches in the community over the years and many wagons were tied to the large oak during church gatherings and picnics. The oak was recently aged at over 183 years old and has played a significant role in the heritage of the community and the early settlement of Middle Tennessee.

The oak declined from 2006 to 2008 and was evaluated as a hazard in 2009. The tree was removed later that year.

Tennessee Dept. of Environment and Conservation Archives

heritage tree

Big Cypress, Weakley County

Once reportedly the oldest and largest tree east of the Rocky Mountains, having sprouted out of the Obion River bottomland in West Tennessee some 500 years before Columbus sailed for America, this giant of a cypress has been shrouded in mystery and legend for 25 years. It reigned as the national champion baldcypress from 1950 until 1976, when it was struck by lightning and finally succumbed to the ravages of time and nature.

The Big Cypress of Weakley County was first discovered in 1949 in remote and inaccessible swamps that remain flooded most of the year. In 1950 a small expedition of Division of Forestry employees waded into the swamp and measured the tree at 39 feet, 8 inches in circumference and over 122 feet tall. They noted at that time that the top had been broken by storms but that the tree may once have been 140 feet tall.

The cypress was later featured in a 1954 American Forest article, where it was coined "The Tennessee Titan." It was also listed with American Forest for many years as the "Reelfoot Lake Cypress," although it stood some 30 miles southeast of that lake. But most people considered it simply as the Big Cypress. Some people placed the tree in Obion County and others had it in neighboring Weakley County. Much of the original tree was consumed by a fire from the 1976 lightning strike. Locals reported that it burned for several weeks.

The old tree was hollow at the base with a cavity large enough to shelter four or five men. A man in the nearby town of Sharon once reportedly offered $2,000 for the butt log to make it into a service station, although no one took him up on the offer. In later years the Big Cypress State Park and Natural Area was created to honor and protect the famous tree, where only a remnant of the stump stands today.

Tennessee State Library

heritage tree

Chickasaw Treaty Oak, Nashville

In 1783, after a long and bloody conflict between the pioneers of Middle Tennessee and resident Indian tribes, the Cumberland District of North Carolina, with the approval of the state of Virginia, authorized Col. John Donelson, Col. Joseph Martin, and Col. Isaac Shelby to arrange a treaty between the Chickasaws and all the southern tribes. The site of the treaty was to be held near Fort Nashborough, now Nashville. After much discussion, the men felt that assembling such a large force of Indians in the fort was not wise. An alternate site was chosen some four miles from the fort, and in June 1783 the treaty was conducted with Chiefs Piomingo and Mingo-Homa under this large burr oak. The Chiefs ceded a large segment of land on the south side of the Cumberland River, much of it now present-day Middle Tennessee.

The tree became a campsite for many Tennessee soldiers marching off to wars in later years, including Andrew Jackson's campaign against the Creek Nation in 1813 and the Spanish-American War in 1898. The tree was reported to be six feet in diameter in 1941.

The old tree fell in June 1956. A bronze plaque in the West Park development in Nashville at 61st and Louisiana Avenues once marked the original location of the oak, but it no longwr exists. A small section of the tree can be seen at the State Agricultural Museum on the Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville.

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Dueling Oaks, Memphis

Nominated by Jim Cortese
Added in 2014

Although fighting duels was illegal in the State of Tennessee by the early nineteenth century, the Dueling Oaks of Memphis reigned over skirmishes of honor as late as 1870. The oak grove earned its name from its location almost into Mississippi, where dueling was still in fashion. Tennessee gentlemen journeyed by train to the 640-acre home of William Joyner to fight their duels — the earliest recorded between William Gholson and Albert Jackson in 1837, and the last in 1879 between Edward Hamblin and Major Ed Freeman.

Like much of Tennessee, the land around the Dueling Oaks saw extensive activity during the Civil War. It was rumored to be the site of a bloody massacre by Sherman’s soldiers, and the scene of the hanging of a Confederate spy. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s troops staged their 1864 raid on Memphis from near Dueling Oaks.

The land was originally owned by William Measles, a Cherokee who was adopted into the Chickasaw Nation.

The Dueling Oaks Grove and the William Joyner House, Memphis Commercial Appeal, October 4, 1931

heritage tree

King Oak, Bristol

Nominated by Lonnie Blevins
and Mike Johnson
Registered as a Historic Tree in 2005

This magnificent white oak stood in the DeFriece City Park in Bristol and was living in 1814 when James King bought the property from Evan Shelby, a major in the Kings Mountain Battle of 1780. The Reverend James King developed the land as a plantation and left many of the tree groves as shady areas for picnics for his slaves and his family through the years. Even long after all his slaves were freed and the Reverend King had died (in 1867), the family continued to use the groves for their picnics. During the Civil War a company of Federal soldiers camped under the King Oak for several days and lived from the produce, including livestock, of the plantation.

Many of the original trees were felled during the 1870s to make room for the development of Bristol, the lumber being used to build many of the old homes in the town, including King College nearby. Some of the wood was also used for Simon's Carriage and Wagon Works, which also stood nearby. However, the land around the King Oak was spared and was donated to the city to be used as a park by Mr. and Mrs. Frank DeFriece.

The King Oak of Bristol represented the early settlement of Upper East Tennessee from the 1770s through the Civil War, and including the early development of Bristol.

The tree lost part of its trunk in a storm in early 2008, exposing a large internal cavity. Vandals set the tree on fire in late 2008 and soon afterward the tree was evaluated to be a hazard to the public. The King Oak was reluctantly removed by the city later that year.

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Natchez Trace Pecan, Carroll County

Nominated by Gene Hyde
Registered as a Historic Tree in 1998

After General Andrew Jackson's victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, and at the close of the war with Great Britain, some of his soldiers returned to their homes in Tennessee over the Natchez Trace. Originally a forest path, the 500-mile road, first beaten through the wilderness by buffalo, then by Indians, frontiersmen, armies and settlers, extended from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi.

Among Jackson's troops was a soldier who carried some pecan (Carya illinoensis) nuts home from Louisiana. According to legend, when he camped overnight at what is now Natchez Trace State Forest, he met a girl named Sukie Morris, who lived nearby. The soldier gave her some of the pecans, which she planted. One of them grew to become the Natchez Trace Pecan, at one time the largest documented pecan tree in the United States.

The old pecan stood on the Camden Road, in rural Carroll County, five miles north of exit 116 on I-40 (west of Nashville) in the Natchez Trace State Forest. The forest is managed by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry. The tree was over 183 years old when its poor health forced foresters to remove it in the summer of 2008.

Photo by Jim Cortese

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Pemberton Oak, Bristol

This historic tree saw the soldiers of five wars encamped under its branches. The most famous of these were members of a Revolutionary War pioneer muster that helped change the course of the patriotic cause.

In September 1780, Col. John Pemberton assembled his command under the oak to march his volunteer army to Sycamore Shoals (Elizabethton). He was joined there with units from Virginia under the command of Col. William Campbell and Col. Arthur Campbell. The combined army then arrived at the Watauga Settlement on September 25. After joining units from the area, the entire force departed to march over the mountain to South Carolina toward fame and history.

On October 7, 1780, the army of 1,100 men surrounded British Col. Patrick Ferguson and his men on King Mountain. The resultant patriot victory changed the course of the war, forcing British General Cornwallis to abandon his plans in the South.

This white oak was owned by descendents of Colonel Pemberton. The tree fell in a storm in late summer 2004.

Courtesy of the City of Kingsport Archive

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Rotherwood Elm, Kingsport

This venerable old elm stood on the banks of the north fork of the Holston River and became one of the most famous trees in Tennessee. It was mentioned in Dr. Thomas Walker's journal of his surveying exploration in 1748. It also stood only a few miles from the Long Island of the Holston, the beloved sacred ground of the Cherokees. The island and surrounding land, including the tree, were traded to the settlers in the Long Island Treaty of 1777.

The elm was also mentioned by an early party of French travelers in the area, and Daniel Boone reportedly camped under it on one of his famous journeys into Kentucky. The river ford near the tree was also one of the great early highways between the Valley of Virginia and the Valley of Tennessee until 1818 when the Reverend Dr. Frederick A Ross built a bridge to his famous Rotherwood Estate on the west bank of the ford. The lavish estate, named after the castle of Cedric the Saxon, featured a cotton mill and was known far and wide. The business eventually failed and in 1852, Dr. Ross lost his entire estate. However, the old tree remained a landmark to the Kingsport community until its death in the 1940s.

Dr. Thomas Walker's mention of the elm in 1748 marks the earliest known documented record of famous Tennessee trees. The elm stood throughout the early history of the state and witnessed the struggle for statehood from Virginia and North Carolina.

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Suttles’ Boundary Oak, Sevier County

On the 29th day of December 1866, Fredrick Emert purchased 337 acres of land on the headwaters of Walden's Creek in Sevier County, Tennessee. The property was sold on the courthouse steps at auction to settle the estate of James Murphy. The deed of Fredrick Emert describes the property as "Beginning at a small white oak and persimmon on the upper side of the main road." The same white oak was referred to in other deeds dating back to the 1840s.

This white oak once stood on the north side of Walden's Creek Road near the residence of Mike Suttles, a seventh-generation descendant of Fredrick Emert. It was added to the Landmark Registry in 2004; at the time the oak was 35 inches in diameter and 76 feet tall and was marked and painted as a boundary line tree.

The tree fell in a storm in 2006.

heritage tree

Thomas "Bigfoot" Spencer Sycamore, Castalian Springs, Sumner County

Nominated by Jim Cortese
Added in 2014

Bigfoot sycamore

Illustration by Bernie Andrews

Thomas Sharp “Bigfoot” Spencer became famous in Middle Tennessee folklore as the man who lived in a tree.

Bigfoot Spencer, described as a mountain of a man weighing three hundred pounds who left footprints the size of a giant, is credited as being the first Caucasian to settle in Sumner County in what was then North Carolina, nearly two decades before Tennessee became a state. He cleared land, grew corn, and hunted at Bledsoe’s Lick near Castalian Springs — and lived in a giant sycamore tree during the winter of 1778-1779.

Spencer sign

The centuries-old tree was reported to be 12 feet in circumference and broken off 20 feet above the ground. Legend has it that Bigfoot would use a ladder to climb into the tree, which was partially hollowed out by the elements, then pull the ladder in behind him and stay safe from attack by animal or intruder.

The tree survived as a popular landmark into the middle of the nineteenth century. A memorial erected by Daughters of the American Revolution in the 1920s marks the spot where the tree stood, now on the property of Wynnewood State Historic Area.

Used by permission from The Overmountain Men by Pat Alderman, published by The Overmountain Press

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Toll Oak, Rockwood

In the late 18th century, the Cherokees operated a tollgate near this large oak. Travelers between the Watauga Settlements in Upper East Tennessee and the Cumberland Settlements in Middle Tennessee paid tribute to pass along this path, under the agreement of the Holston Treaty. James Glasgow, John Hackett and Littlepage Sims arranged with Chief Tullentuskee of the Cherokee for the boundaries of the Indian Reservation and the town of Rockwood. According to legend, these three men planted the oak at the door of the Chief's wigwam as a symbol of the treaty.

History failed to identify the species of oak, but its heritage has not been forgotten. Indeed, the town of Rockwood and the settlement of Middle Tennessee owes much to this tree.

The tree fell in a storm in 1925.

Photo by Deane Stone

Cross section of Trigonia Elm (Photo by Nathan Waters)

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Trigonia Elm, Blount County

Standing near the corners of three counties in the Trigonia community of southwestern Blount County, the massive American elm (Ulmus americana) shaded almost a half-acre of land. It stood over 100 feet tall, had a crown spread of 147 feet and was a impressive 24 feet, 7 inches in circumference. It was the largest known tree in East Tennessee for many years and was listed as the national champion American elm for more than 15 years, starting in 1951, and reigned as the Tennessee state champion for 25 years.

The tree was once nominated as a national historic monument to the National Park Service, but failed in that attempt. It was then nominated to the National Register of Historic Places and again failed because the register does not include trees. The Tennessee Historical Commission was then contacted for designation of the tree as a state landmark and that too failed. However, that did not prevent the tree from being the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles, including a 1974 Southern Living story. In fact, few trees have ever had as much public notoriety as this elm.

It was growing on the 288 acres of land that Governor (later President) Andrew Johnson gave to John Montgomery in 1855 as one of the original land grants in the Trigonia community. In later years, John's son, Squire Jim Montgomery, married so many people under the branches of the large tree that he soon became known as the "marrying squire."

The tree became controversial in 1971 when TVA purchased the land surrounding it for the Tellico Dam project. Local support rallied to save the massive tree, although the impoundment of the lake did not flood any of the adjacent land. TVA was sympathetic to the cause and had the tree treated by foresters to help preserve its declining health. The old tree was struck by lightning in the summer of 1979 (some locals reported several strikes hit the tree that year) and it finally succumbed.

The tree was cut down by TVA in June 1980, and sections were hauled to various locations within the region. Each one-foot section of the trunk reportedly weighed between 5,000 to 6,000 pounds. One section of the huge trunk can still be viewed in the city park next to the Blount County Courthouse in Maryville and another resides in the Smoky Mountain Heritage Museum in Townsend.

Used with permission from The Overmountain Men by Pat Alderman, published by The Overmountain Press

heritage tree

Watauga Treaty Sycamore, Elizabethton

Under this sycamore tree, the first court of the Watauga Association was held in May 1772. The first free government in America was thereby formed, independent of any other state or colony. The governmental body organized its own judicial and civil laws for the new settlement and provided for the protection of the new colony. Eventually this body would assist in the formation of the State of Franklin and passed resolutions to be sent to North Carolina for independence from its rule.

The sycamore eventually succumbed to disease and age, and the stump still stands near the old covered bridge in Elizabethton. The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a cover to protect the remains.

The Tennessee Heritage Tree List recognizes trees that would qualify for the Landmark and Historic Tree Registry but died before it was created or were on the Registry but have since died. Their contribution to the history and heritage of Tennessee deserves preserving.