“Remember the spring of 2016?”
A hundred or more years from now, that might be what future faculty, staff and students say when standing in the shade of a newly planted tree on the Summerville Campus—a descendant of the original Arsenal Oak.
Grown from an acorn, the descendent white oak, now located in the front lawn of the Benét house, certainly has a centuries old legacy to live up to.
Estimated to be more than 250 years old when it was felled, the original Arsenal Oak once towered over the university’s Grove. It was removed in 2004 after falling prey to wood-boring insects and hypoxylon canker—a breed of plant fungus that kills its host before spreading to neighboring trees.
Prior to its removal, the tree served as the dominant symbol of the Summerville Campus and as one of Augusta’s most recognizable landmarks. Because of that, Deb Barshafsky, strategist for the Augusta University Heritage Project, said planting one of its descendants marks a crucial moment in the university’s history.
“The Arsenal Oak was a witness to so much—not just our history as a university, but the history of Augusta, of Georgia and of the nation,” Barshafsky said. “The tree predated the American Revolution. It stood before the 13 original colonies found common issues to form our nation. Clearly, it is a tangible connection to our past.”
But as important as the oak was to the university’s past, Barshafsky said the tree’s descendant will serve an even greater purpose.
“It is a symbol of our future, reinvigorated and growing,” she said. “The oak’s roots extend deep into the ground just as our roots as a university extend into our community.”
The effort to grow a new Arsenal Oak was a communal undertaking.
George Barrett, a local arborist and owner of Barrett Tree Company, grew a number of saplings from acorns taken from the oak when it became clear the tree would not survive. Later, Rob Pavey, a journalist, avid outdoorsman, and longtime friend of the university, bought 12 of Barrett’s saplings in the 90s and nurtured them for years on his property in Columbia County.
The tree transplanted on campus was donated by Pavey, one of his original 12.
Ultimately, though, the idea to bring the mighty oak back to campus came from Augusta University students. Barshafsky said she believes that’s a sign that the university’s current students, most of whom never stood in the shade of the original oak, recognize how important the tree was.
“Students came to us with the idea to replant the oak,” Barshafsky said. “That demonstrates their appreciation of our university’s history and heritage—and, more specifically, the profound significance of the Arsenal Oak to this university and community.”
The Student Government Association will host a dedication ceremony on April 29, Arbor Day, to celebrate the Arsenal Oak’s return to campus.
For more information about the new Arsenal Oak or the ceremony, contact Deb Barshafsky at email@example.com.