Star Attraction Is
A Familiar Sight
At 100-Feet Tall
BY LISA WARREN
The annual Old Oak Festival wrapped up Sunday afternoon on the Tusculum College campus after three days of music, storytelling, exhibits and much more.
While the weather was not very cooperative on Friday afternoon, a sizable crowd turned out under bright, sunny skies on Saturday and Sunday for the family-friendly festival.
A variety of activities could be found for enjoyment including arts and crafts vendors, food, music, storytelling, and children's activities.
The music on Friday and Saturday included a mix of rock, folk, and bluegrass, including an incredible performance by eight-year-old fiddler and singer Carson Peters.
On Saturday evening, hillbilly rockers Bootleg Turn, southern rockers Original Copy, folk artists The Madison and bluesman Jimmie D and the B-Movie Blues brought a nice crowd to the lawn behind the campus library.
Rounding out the evening was a performance by Shiloh, which consisted of several Tusculum College alumni, plus some new young faces.
OLD OAK TREE STARS
Also among the featured activities on Saturday afternoon was a special ceremony to honor the event's star attraction - the stately old oak tree that has been a part of the college landscape for some 250-300 years.
The tree has been added to an elite list of "Landmark Trees" in the state by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council (TUFC).
A representative of the forestry council, Tom Simpson, was among those present for the tree dedication ceremony.
This registry, Simpson said, was started in 1996 to recognize famous trees across Tennessee. There are only 32 trees listed in the registry -- and the Old Oak is now one of them.
"It's a magnificent tree!" Simpson said, adding that he immediately recognized it the first time that he drove onto the Tusculum College campus.
The tree stands guard over the the Old College Building, as it is commonly referred to by the students and staff at Tusculum College.
The building is the oldest of the academic buildings on campus and today houses the President Andrew Johnson Museum and Library.
The TUFC website provides the following details about the college's Old Oak.
"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," the site says.
"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," the website said.
STANDS 100-FEET TALL
Today, 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 tree stands today as a symbol of endurance," said Dr. Nancy B. Moody, president of Tusculum College.
She pointed out that the tree is older than the college itself. Tusculum, a combination of the former Greeneville College and Tusculum College, dates from 1794: two years before the State of Tennessee was established.
Storyteller Saundra Kelley, who was a participant in the Old Oak Festival activities, urged the audience to take a moment and imagine a time when leather moccasins were worn upon the feet of those who walked across the grounds where this oak tree stands.
This tree, she pointed out, was there during those times.
"This tree is a landmark for this place," Kelley said. "I like to think that the strength and endurance that grows in this oak tree also grows in the students and staff of this college campus."
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.