Oaks east of Acadiana
It was while working on the photographs of Trees Acadiana’s top 10 live oaks that I had the inspiration to extend my search from Acadiana to include the largest and oldest live oaks I could locate across Louisiana.
Edna Szymoniak Oak—Number 3 on my 30-something list is the Edna Szymoniak Oak, located at the entrance to the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Center. Nestled in pine and oak woods about six miles from the city of Hammond, at 21549 Old Covington Highway, the station covers approximately 150 acres of research gardens. It is a beautiful example of a well-cared-for old oak. Its location makes it easy for Research Center visitors to view and it receives the regular protection and care of the AgCenter’s knowledgeable staff.
At 35 ft. 6 inches in circumference, I feel the Edna Szymoniak Oak probably gets far less recognition than it deserves as one of Louisiana’s oldest and largest live oaks. Not much is known about its history prior to the establishment of the Hammond Ag Center, but in this area of the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, there are numerous ancient live oaks, including the Seven Sisters Oak in Mandeville. In a recent Times Picayune article of historic live oaks within a short distance of New Orleans, the Edna Oak wasn’t even included.
The Edna Szymoniak oak is named after the wife of Boleslaus “Bill” Szymoniak, the first superintendent of the research center station. (From their website) “Established in 1922 as the Fruit and Truck Experiment Station, the LSU AgCenter Hammond has traditionally served the strawberry and vegetable industries.
Today, the AgCenter’s focus is landscape horticulture, including plant selection, fertility, weed control and plant growth regulators. Scientists evaluate more than 500 ornamental plants per year and each spring and fall release a list of “Super Plants” that grow well in all parts of Louisiana.
Lorenzo Dow Oak—The next oak on my list has an interesting story connected to its name—the Lorenzo Dow Oak, located near Grangeville, LA.
The oak is named after Lorenzo Dow, who (according to Wikipedia) was an eccentric itinerant American preacher who lived between 1777 and 1834. He reportedly preached to more people than any other preacher of his time. Dow traveled widely around the U.S. preaching “against atheism, deism, Calvinism and Universalism.” Though he lived like a pauper, traveling mostly on foot with only the clothes on his back and a box of bibles, Dow was also a successful author. His autobiography was at one time the second most-read book, exceeded only by the bible.
Dow traveled to this part of the South in 1803–1804 and probably preached in or near the Grangeville area. His dramatic fire-and-brimstone evangelical preaching style (he shouted, screamed, begged, flattered, cried and challenged his listeners and their beliefs) drew crowds wherever he spoke. His wide influence and popularity resulted in many children of this period being named after him as well as this ancient oak.
Because he was often unwelcome in churches, Dow would preach wherever he could—in town halls, farmers’ barns, open fields and possibly even under the overhanging branches of these two old oaks.
The sprawling and partially overgrown Lorenzo Dow Oak is located on the grounds of the Grangeville Masonic Lodge #231, along with a second neighboring oak that is 27 feet 11 inches in girth.
The lodge is one of the oldest Masonic groups in Louisiana, with a membership that dates back to 1889, and a lodge building that was originally constructed in the 1930s (and is currently being restored).
This oak was especially challenging to find since its location on the Live Oak Society registry was simply “East Feliciana.” Grangeville is actually in St. Helena Parish, a few miles west of Pine Grove in a northeastern corner of Louisiana, east of St. Francisville (though in the early part of the 1900s many people referred to this area of Louisiana as the “Florida Parishes and referred to east and west Feliciana as just the “Felicianas.” I finally found online snapshots of someone who had visited the Grangeville Masonic Lodge and so wrote a letter to the lodge and finally located the old oak.
NOTE: Though, “northeastern” may not seem accurate to those living around Grangeville, since it is due east of St. Francisville which is in the middle of the state. Grangeville is located in the northeastern corner of the “toe” of Louisiana’s boot shape that sticks into Mississippi and is only a few miles directly south of McComb, MS. Grangeville is positioned where the boot laces would be on the toe of the boot shape.