Revisiting the Lorenzo Dow Oak

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Lorenzo Dow Oak in the rain, Grangeville Masonic Lodge grounds, 35′-8″ girth

Since moving to Bayou Lafourche last December, I regularly consult with the two old oaks in our front yard over photographic work matters. (Cyndi likes to say that I left the corporate world and now I’m employed full-time by the oak trees.) Crazy? Maybe. But the ideas I get when talking to the old oaks are at least as good as those from some of the human supervisors I’ve had over the years.

Last Saturday morning, after checking in with the front-yard oaks and the weather app on my phone, we decided to brave the impending thunderstorms and make a two-hour drive to Grangeville, LA, a postage-stamp-sized town near the Amite River just north and west of Pine Grove. Our objective was to re-photograph the Lorenzo Dow Oak (see my previous blog entry), a 35-foot-plus girth oak located on the grounds of the historic Grangeville Masonic Lodge.

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Lorenzo Dow Oak, panoramic view, study 5

Threatening rain or not, we hit the road and arrived at Grangeville just as the first drops began to fall. I made a flurry of photos, trying to hold my baseball cap over my camera’s wide angle lens to shield it from rain, with a fair amount of success. Since August 2015 when I first photographed the Lorenzo Dow Oak, the Grangeville Masonic Lodge members have cleared away the undergrowth that obscured the trunk and main limbs of the old oak,  revealing the full profile of this huge tree. At 35 ft. 8 in. in girth, this little-known oak is tied with the Randall Oak in New Roads as the second largest and oldest of live oaks in Louisiana.

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Lorenzo Dow Oak, infrared black and white study 1

An interesting side note about this tree that I discovered after my 2015 visit: The Lorenzo Dow Oak was registered tree #261 with the Live Oak Society (LOS). This was probably sometime after 1963, when the LOS became active again after a dormant period of about 16-17 years. Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens acted as secretary of the Society until his death in November 1938. At that time, his list of member trees included 57 oaks. In 1945, Stanley C. Arthur, executive director of the Louisiana State Museum, assumed responsibility for record keeping, admission of new tree members and continued measurements of tree growth.

In the  Live Oak Society Bulletin, a hand-typed newsletter he produced, Mr. Arthur added another 62 oaks to Dr. Stephens’ registry, including their names, locations, measurements and sponsors. This brought the total of member oaks to 119. In that list, there is an oak named the Dr. E.O. Powers Oak, also located in Grangeville, LA. So, it’s possible the Lorenzo Dow Oak was in the first 119 oaks on the Society registry under a different name and with a different sponsor and was renamed and re-registered 20 years later.

In 1957, the Louisiana Garden Club Federation assumed record keeping responsibility for the Society; and since then the secretary/chairmanship and record keeping responsibilities have passed on continually, slowing adding to the now 8,000-plus roster of senior and junior member live oaks.

 

Revisiting the Seven Sisters Oak and the nearby Abbot Oak

Though I’ve had a couple of other blog posts in the works, I couldn’t leave the 30-something project behind without a nod to the Seven Sisters Oak, the current president of the Live Oak Society and the national champion live oak tree species in the American Forests’ Big Tree Registry. And also a 30-something oak…

The Seven Sisters Oak – Live Oak Society President and Champion Tree of the Southern live oak species in American Forest’s Champion Tree List.

Cyndi and I took a drive from Bayou Lafourche to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain recently to revisit the Seven Sisters Oak, to make some new photographs for the blog and say hello to an old friend.  The sky was overcast, making it possible a good day to photograph in the shadows of a towering old oak.  The recent rains had turned the resurrection fern a lush bright green. (We also made a stop in Ponchatoula to stock up on local strawberries and visit a couple of other local oaks including the Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak.

While visiting the tree, we met the current owners, John and Mary Jane Becker. They were welcoming and informative about their term as caretakers of this massive oak (almost 40 feet in circumference).  The Seven Sister’s Oak shades much of the front yard of the Becker’s home in the historic neighborhood of Lewisburg, near the edge of Lake Pontchartrain, in Mandeville.  Mrs. Becker remarked how the old oak was wearing an abundance of new celery green flowers (catkins) when we visited, one indication that the centuries-old tree is still healthy and vital.  She also said that last year the oak produced a bumper crop of acorns.

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Seven Sisters Oak, view toward the Becker’s home.

If you missed our previous blog post on the Seven Sisters, I’ll recap some of its known history (though what we know about the oak dates back less than 100 years and some estimates of the tree’s age put it to between 600 and 1,000 years old).

The Seven Sisters Oak is actually the second live oak to take the status of President of the Live Oak Society.  It replaced the Society’s first president, the Locke Breaux Oak, after its death from air and water pollution (see my previous posts about the Locke Breaux Oak for details).

For years, the eligibility of the Seven Sisters Oak as a society member tree was disputed.  It was argued to be several separate trees growing together rather than a single tree. Then in 1976, after inspection by federal foresters, the multiple tree trunks were found to have a single root system.  It was accepted into the Society—registered (#200)—and in time, was appointed the new Society President, based on its girth, limb spread, and height.

(A short sidebar.  From other sources, I see this is an ongoing argument among tree-measuring folks—whether the circumference of a multi-trunk oak can be compared equally to a single-trunk tree. I take a neutral position on this topic. To me, they’re all very old oaks, and as such deserve to be considered as cultural, historic, and environmental treasures, regardless of the shape or number of trunks.)

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The oak tree’s first sponsor was the Doby family who owned the property on which the tree is located at that time (the 1930s). Mrs. Carole Hendry Doby was one of seven sisters in her family and the tree was named originally named “Doby’s Seven Sisters.” The oak was re-registered (#697) by its next owners, Mr. and Mrs. Milton Seiler.  The Seiler’s renamed the tree simply “The Seven Sisters.”

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Seven Sisters Oak, view from outside of the oak’s canopy, showing new green catkins.

According to the American Forests’ Big Tree Registry, the Seven Sisters Oak has a crown spread of 139 feet, a circumference of 467 inches (approximately thirty-nine feet) and a height of sixty-eight feet. Its age has been estimated to be somewhere between 500 and 1200 years old. The current measurement is closer to 480 + inches or 40 feet.

The Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak – near Covington, LA

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Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak

While traveling to Mandeville from Ponchatoula, we stopped in at the St. Joseph Abbey in St. Benenedict, LA., just west of Covington. The abbey grounds are home to four Live Oak Society member trees.  The largest, the Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak (#2464), has a beautiful spread and a girth of approximately 22 feet 10 inches. The tree is named after the Benedictine monk who was the first head of the monastery established in 1889 by a small group of monks from St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana.

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Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak, study 2

You’ll see in my photos, that several limbs of the 60 foot-tall tree are supported by metal pole braces. According to the abbey historian, the tree was damaged by a wind storm (and possibly a tornado) that swept through the area in November of 1957. The winds damaged the mid-section of the oak causing a severe split. But instead of cutting the tree down, the Abbey chose to secure the split with heavy bolts and limb supports. So far, the tree appears to have stabilized.

Note: The abbey was hit hard by rains, winds, and flooding the week before our visit. It was spring, and the old oak was shedding leaves to begin new spring growth and flowers.  That’s why the oak has so few leaves in the photos above.

The Marvin McGraw and Mr. Mike oaks

It looks like I’ll be revisiting the 30-something project on and off during 2016, mainly to add a few “stragglers” – oaks that I missed in my original list of possible 30-something-sized trees or others that have turned up since my last entry.  In this post, I’ll feature examples of both.

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Marvin McGraw Memorial Oak, study 1

The Marvin McGraw Memorial Oak – This old oak was on the first list I put together of Live Oak Society members that could be in the 30-something category. It is located in Reserve, on the east bank of the Mississippi River in St. John the Baptist Parish. It was registered by Maxie and Pete McGraw (#1428) with an estimated girth of 31 feet (my measurement was 27’-6”). I was able to hone in on the tree’s exact location through help from Maxie and Pete’s brother, Marvin, who is the current director of marketing and public relations for the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge.

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Marvin McGraw Memorial Oak, black-and-white study

He recalled how when he was a child the old oak tree stood in a grassy pasture in the company of grazing cows and horses. His father Marvin, the oak’s namesake, used to tell the kids that the old oak “was already a large tree when Columbus discovered America.” Marvin (the son) also remembered that there was a very old graveyard near the oak where they would find gravestones and wrought-iron crosses with inscriptions written in French.

When I visited the oak, the graveyard had long ago disappeared. And over the years, the open pasture shrunk steadily as it was parceled up into lawns. I found the oak still growing in a small side yard sandwiched between two homes at the end of a quiet residential street.

The Mike Oak – The Mike Oak is located outside of the entrance gate to Oaklawn Manor, which is just off Irish Bend Road and a few miles above Franklin. On the entrance road onto Oaklawn Drive, the oak is in the lot to the left of the driveway that turns right into the Oaklawn Manor gate house and home.  It is not the most lovely of the many oaks in the grove lining Oaklawn Drive, or of the oaks on the Manor grounds, but it is the largest, with a girth in 2015 of 30 feet.

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The Mike Oak, study 1, Oaklawn Manor near Franklin, LA

The land that became Oaklawn Manor Plantation was purchased in 1809 by Irish-born attorney Alexander Porter and it was his Irish ancestry that gave this stretch along Bayou Teche the name “Irish Bend.”Porter served on the Louisiana Supreme Court and also as U.S. Senator representing Louisiana. After his time in the U.S. Senate, Porter retired to Irish Bend and built the Greek Revival home near Franklin that he named Oaklawn Manor Plantation.

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Mike Oak, infrared study

After a series of owners and renovations in the 1960s, the Manor was purchased in 1986 by Murphy “Mike” Foster, Jr. and his wife Alice and underwent another restoration. Foster was elected 53rd governor of Louisiana in 1995 and still owns and lives at Oaklawn Manor today.  The home and grounds are open to the public for tours. Call ahead for tour hours (337-828-0434).

The Mike Oak was registered (#3447 in the Live Oak Society registry) by Mr. Foster and his wife.  I’ve met with Mr. Foster on a few occasions when photographing the oaks at Oaklawn. He even gave me a tour of the grounds on his golf cart to point out the many old live oaks on his property.

As a side note, ex-governor Foster is an oak preservationist at heart. He realizes the importance of this iconic tree to the cultural heritage and ecology of the state and has in the past interceded to stop the removal of many old oaks along the Grand Chenier highway (state Hwy. 82). This highway parallels the southern edge of the state between Pecan Island and Cameron. The chenier oaks, though weather-beaten and bent, help slow erosion of the delicate coastal ridges throughout the “Chenier Plain,” an area extending roughly from Sabine Lake (west) to Vermillion Bay (east) along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.

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Mike Oak, color study 2

 

The Faucheaux Oak, Grosse Tete Oak, Mays Oak and list of 30′ girth oaks

We’re nearing the end of my original list of live oaks that I compiled with 30-plus-feet girth. In my search, I identified approximately 20 live oaks in the Live Oak Society registry that had a stated trunk circumference of 30 feet or more (at 4.5’ off the ground). A few of those were originally mis-measured by their owner/sponsors; so my current list (almost final list) now contains 14 oaks larger than 30 ft. in girth, six oaks with girths of more than 29 ft., and a few more that I’ve yet to locate with girths reportedly larger than 29 ft. (You can see my current list at the end of this blog entry.)

However, I fully suspect to add more oaks to this list in the coming year. In the process of working on this project, we’ve relocated back to Louisiana (I grew up here) to be better able to continue the 100 Oaks Project. Cyndi and I are now living in the old Constant family home outside of Thibodaux where we have a 25’-8” and a 21’-6” oak in the front yard. (The Constants were old family friends of my parents in Thibodaux, and I found their home for rent while photographing the oaks on their property).

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Constant/Faucheaux Oak (21′-6″) in foreground; Faucheux Oak in background (25′-8″)

We’ve also made new friends with several garden club groups across the state, including the Lafourche and Terrebonne parish garden clubs and master gardeners group (Cyndi was a master gardener in Texas and is now taking classes to become certified in Louisiana). The Lafourche and Terrebonne groups have been working hard to register old live oaks in their area—we applaud the great work they’ve done.

Now on to the trees…

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Grosse Tete Oak, color study 1 (30′-2″)

One of the easiest 30-something oaks to locate is the Grosse Tete Oak. You can spot it on the north side of the I-10 overpass at the Highway 77 Grosse Tete / Rosedale exit. There are several lovely old oaks nearby on the grounds of the Iberville Parish Visitor Center, located on the LA. Hwy. 77 side of the bayou, right near the exit. The Grosse Tete Oak is just south of the Visitor Center.

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Grosse Tete Oak, b&w study 2

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Grosse Tete Oak, infrared study 3

This grand old tree is number 17 on the list of the 43 charter oaks in the Live Oak Society (or number 22 on their current online list). When listed in Dr. Stephen’s Louisiana Conservation Review article of 1934, it had a girth of 22 ft. 6 in. Our most recent measurement in September 2015 shows it with a girth of 30 ft. 2 in.

The Grosse Tete Oak’s original sponsor was Mrs. Lelia Barrow Mays. Both “Barrow” and “Mays” are family names that are significant in local history.

Grosse Tete is a small village with a current population of 647 (according to their website). Much of the village is spread along a two-mile stretch of businesses and homes on both sides of Bayou Grosse Tete (which means “Big Head” in French). Local legend (and the Grosse Tete website) states that the name came about from a big-headed Choctaw Indian who lived and hunted in the area when it was settled by French Acadians. Before the railroad, the bayou was the main route of transportation through this pastoral region of lush green pastures and sugarcane fields.

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The Mays Oak, #6 of 43 Live Oak Society charter member trees.

The Mays Oak (30′-11″) is number six (6) of the original 43 charter members of the Live Oak Society. It’s located just a short drive north on LA Hwy. 77 from Grosse Tete on the grounds of Live Oaks Plantation. The plantation home is on the east side of  Hwy. 77, facing Bayou Grosse Tete, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It’s a private home and not open to the public.

According to the KnowLa website (an online encyclopedia of Louisiana sponsored by the Louisiana Endowment of the Humanities), Live Oaks Plantation was built in 1838 by Charles H. Dickinson. He and his 14-year-old bride, Anna Turner, moved to Louisiana from Tennessee in 1828, almost two dozen years after his father died in a duel with Andrew Jackson in 1806. With the help of slave artisans, he built the two and one-half story plantation house of pegged local cypress and bricks made from clay from the area.

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Mays Oak study with brick tomb

The historic oak is located to the left of the plantation home (viewed from the highway) and next to an unusual brick tomb and brick church that was once used by plantation slaves.  Later the church served as a schoolhouse and Episcopal chapel (both structures can be seen in the color photo above, and the tomb can be seen in the black and white photo to the left).

The brick tomb contains iron caskets cast in the form of a human body. The Smithsonian Institution dated the caskets in the tomb to circa 1830.

For more information about Live Oaks Plantation, go to KnowLa.org  (a great resource on historic info about Louisiana) or look for Karen Kingsley’s book, Buildings of Louisiana published by Oxford University Press, 2003.

My current list of 30-something-size live oaks (as of 2016)
1. Seven Sisters Oak – Lewisburg / Mandeville; 39′-10″
2. Randall Oak – New Roads; 35′-8″
3. Edna Szymoniak Live Oak – LSU Hammond Research Station; 35′-6″
4. Lorenzo Dow Oak – near Pine Grove, LA; 35′- 8″
5. La Belle Colline Oak – Between Sunset and Carencro; 34′
6. The Martin Tree – Gonzales, LA, Ascension Parish; 34′
7. The Governor’s Oak – Baton Rouge; 33′-3″
8. Lastrapes Oak (Seven Brothers Oak) – Washington, LA; 32’-3″ (largest section)
9. Rebekah Oak – Breaux Bridge; 32′
10. Boudreaux Friendship Oak – Lafayette; 31’-10”
11. Lagarde Oak – Luling; 30′-11″
11. Mays Oak – Live Oaks Plantation, near Rosedale; 30′-11″
12. Blanchet Oak – Lafayette; 30′-7″
13. Grosse Tete Oak – Bayou Grosse Tete; 30′-2″
14. Etienne de Bore’ Oak – Audubon Park, NOLA; 30’ (also called the Tree of Life and the Monkey Hill Oak)

29 foot-plus oaks
15. Josephine A. Stewart Oak – Oak Alley Plantation; 29′-11″
16. Hudson Oak – Hudson Oaks home, Prairieville, LA; 29′-9″
17. Grenier Oak – above Thibodaux on Hwy. 1; 29’-?”
18. Stonaker or St. Maurice Oak – New Roads, LA; 29′-6″
19. St. John’s Cathedral Oak – Lafayette; 29’-6″
20. Mr. Mike Oak – Oaklawn Manor, near Franklin; 29′

Yet to locate and photograph
22. Ole Oakie – St. Martinville; 32’-2” (Kennison Ambrose, sponsor)
23. Grandpere Oak – Barataria Bayou, Jefferson Parish; reportedly 29’-4”
24. J. H. Lewis Oak – St. Louis Plantation, Whiteville, LA; 29’+

 

 

 

 

 

Governor’s Oak & Ole Glory Oak – Baton Rouge

Old Oaks in Baton Rouge 

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Governor’s Oak color study 1, 34′-7″ girth

The Governor’s Oak (Live Oak Society registry #2364) was one of those oaks that made my job feel more like a detective’s than a photographer’s. The Society’s registry lists  the oak’s location as simply Baton Rouge.  And with a name like “Governor’s Oak,” I assumed it must be growing somewhere near the Governor’s mansion or at least the old state capitol grounds where I had found other LOS member oaks.

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Governor’s Oak color study 6

After several unsuccessful trips in search of this venerable oak, I finally contacted the folks from Baton Rouge Green, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring Baton Rouge area residents to conserve, plant and sustain local trees. They were able to unearth from their files a 1999 Sunday Advocate newspaper article featuring the Governor’s Oak and the efforts of several local families to save it from being removed to make way for  development.

The 34-plus foot girth oak grows off historic Highland Road near Interstate 10 on property that was being subdivided for home lots in 1999. The developer was planning to remove either the sprawling old oak or a smaller adjacent oak to more evenly split up the property parcels. Fortunately, three families stepped in and purchased two parcels of land on which the oaks grew to save both of them. Bill and Suzanne Terrell purchased one lot for their future home and together with Alvin and Carlissa Bargas and Bill and Kathy Lovell the three families bought the neighboring lot containing the two oaks.

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Governor’s Oak color study 7

When the Governor’s Oak was registered with the Live Oak Society by the three couples, it measured 33’-3”. My measurement in 2015 put it a bit closer to 35′, but my measurement was very rough because the trunk of the tree is now covered in poison ivy, which made for delicate and itchy measuring conditions. I still don’t know why the tree is named the “Governor’s Oak” but I’ll amend this post in the future if my research turns up the source.

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Ole Glory Oak color study 6, girth 27′-8″

While tracking down the Governor’s Oak, I discovered that the Highland Road area east and west of I-10 is rich with old and beautiful live oak specimens that have survived development. According to Wikipedia, “historic Highland Road was originally established as a supply road for the indigo and cotton plantations of the early settlers.”

Not far east along Highland Road from the Governor’s Oak, I located the Ole Glory Oak (LOS registry #4592).

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Ole Glory Oak infrared study 1

This 30-something oak grows within a grove of old oaks on the property of John and Michelle Sparks. The oak’s sponsor is listed in the LOS registry as the Country Club of Louisiana Garden Club. Ole Glory Oak was originally registered with a girth of 28’-1”. My measurement placed it closer to 27’-8”, but the tree is situated on a slope, making it awkward to accurately identify a level “waist” near 4.5 ft. from the ground. The boxes in the black and white image above are bee hives—Mr. Sparks, who owns the property on which Ole Glory is located, is a beekeeper.

(Next post – How to measure live oaks.)