Treaty Oak: Jacksonville's Oldest
Welcome to Jacksonville, Florida, the largest city in the U.S. land-wise, and the 13th in population! If you have occasion to pass through Jacksonville or are fortunate enough to live there, make sure you check out this little park, right near the river. If you want to feel the history and forget about politics, recessions, global conflicts, or today’s world-problem du-jour, take an afternoon and visit the Jessie Ball duPont Park. Or as it is known by the locals, Treaty Oak Park, since it is the home of Jacksonville’s famous 250 year-old Treaty Oak.
Dixieland Park at Night (1908)
The entire park is less than three acres, and is located on the Southbank in an area that was once part of what was known as Dixieland Park, also affectionately known as “The Coney Island of the South,” during the early 1900s. The location is now the site of the Crown Plaza Hotel. The 1908 postcard photo above shows the Dixieland Park in 1908.
Dixieland Park, which included most of the present park site, opened in 1907. The park included a 160-foot roller coaster, a toboggan ride, a house of fun gallery and The Flying Jennie, a merry-go-round with over 50 hand-carved animals. Babe Ruth reportedly played baseball at Dixieland, and John Phillips Sousa filled the evening air with his famous Stars and Stripes Forever at a concert in the park’s early years.
Pat Moran's Fiction
In the 1930’s, long after the Dixieland Park was closed, Mrs. Jessie DuPont, the Jacksonville Garden Club, and Pat Moran -- a reporter for Jacksonville’s daily newspaper the Times Union -- organized an effort to save the tree from developers and create a park. Treaty Oak got its name from a piece of Moran's fiction about how settlers and Indians met under the tree to sign peace treaties. It was fiction, but the story fits the tree and the park as good as reality, so the name stuck.
The Alfred I. duPont Foundation and Mrs. duPont purchased the land containing the tree and subsequently donated the land and the tree to the Jacksonville in 1964.
Treaty Oak Park Is Born!
Over the next several years the city acquired the balance of the surrounding property that now constitutes the smallest of Jacksonville’s nature centric parks but sports the largest tree of any Jacksonville Park.
The park was then named in honor of Jessie Ball duPont, the philanthropist Garden Club member who had the original dream. Through the efforts of the city and several private groups and individuals, the park came to life.
A Short Video of the Treaty Oak
Some Vital Statistics
The Treaty Oak is technically known as Quercus virginiana and commonly known as a Southern Live Oak. These Oaks are the largest trees to be found in the eastern United States. Researchers estimate that the Treaty Oak first popped up around 1760 making it over 250 years old. Assuming that estimate, the Treaty Oak could be the oldest living thing in Jacksonville. It is certainly older than the city—which was established in the 1820s.
Some of the vital statistics for the Treaty Oak include: The tree trunk's circumference is more than 25 feet, The tree's uppermost branches are over 70 feet above the ground, and its crown spreads over 145 feet. Typical of giant live oaks, the tree's branches sink to the ground and then rise back up. The oak shades an area larger than half of a football field.
Looking out for the Treaty Oak's Health
Early Piety, a certified arborist, and owner of the company hired by the City of Jacksonville to care for the tree's health visits the tree each month for a general checkup. but only has to do major work to the tree itself every three years or so, for pruning and deadwood removal.
According to Piety half of a tree’s mass is in the root system. He points out that preventing development around the tree has been key to the continued health of the tree.
Ensuring Treaty Oak's Future
In 2010, recognizing the importance of the tree, the City of Jacksonville made several improvements to upgrade Treaty Oak Park, including redecking under the tree, adding new picnic tables and benches, rebuilding sidewalks, adding landscaping and improvements to the lighting.
We should all be grateful for their efforts. One of the plaques tells us that garden groups collect acorns from the tree and plant them all over the city, ensuring the continued legacy of this spectacular local gem.
But, the real appeal of Jesse Ball duPont Park is still the spectacular Treaty Oak. The twisting, gnarly limbs spread out and provide a cool shade for the entire area under the tree.
If you have the opportunity, stop in Jacksonville, bring your lunch and enjoy the tranquility of nature. There are lots of benches and even a few picnic tables near the Treaty Oak. It is guaranteed to be a pleasant experience.