If a tree could talk, oh the stories it would tell. After standing quietly for decades, ‘Ole Henry’, a 100-year-old live oak on Cross Swamp Road, has found fame. The tree has been recognized and certified by the Live Oak Society.
“Ole Henry” may now be the Cross Swamp’s most famous resident.
Residing on the Cross Swamp Road southeast of Patterson, Ole Henry hasn’t let his new found fame go to his head — or his roots.
Ole Henry is a live oak tree.
The tree has been officially recognized by the Live Oak Society, administered by the Louisiana Garden Club Federation.
The group certifies and recognizes live oak trees that have been standing for at least a century. Arborists have determined a way to measure live oak trees that are 100 years old. Live oak trees that have a circumference of greater than 16 feet about four feet above the roots have passed their 100th birthday.
Ole Henry is at least that old, based on its circumference of 19 feet and two inches. The tree received its certification from Federation in 2015.
Ole Henry has seen a lot in his day. When he was just a sprout, Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, MA and the United States had just entered World War I.
The oak is located on land currently owned by Doys and Beal O’Steen and its large canopy spreads over the home of Henry and Ella Strickland.
The Stricklands sharecropped for Foster O’Quinn and raised 10 of their 12 children at the home underneath the massive oak. The Stricklands’ children include Ollie Strickland Kirkland, Polly Strickland Tirell, Dollie Strickland Mobley, Charlie Strickland, Harlie Strickland, Mollie Strickland Knight, Farley Strickland, Carlie Strickland Sloan, Tolly Strickland and Archie Lee Strickland. Delphine Strickland and an infant both died before the family moved to live under the tree.
Archie Strickland, now a resident of Eastman, says Ole Henry the oak tree has been a sure reminder of home.
“It has been a part of our lives for as long as I can remember,” he said.
Unlike many large trees, A. Strickland says the tree was hard to climb.
“It’s trunk was too wide to get a good grip on. We had to get a ladder to climb up in it,” he recalls.
Strickland said the tree is most remembered as a place for family and for shade.
“All of us used to gather under it when it was hot and we would sit under it and talk. We also canned lots of vegetables underneath it. We shelled many peas and put up many, many ears of corn under its branches.”
Strickland says the tree’s canopy was much narrower when he first remembers it than the more than 100 foot span it is now.
He lived under its shade from the time he was nine years old until he left home at the age of 21 in 1968.
“I worked for 45 years at Gilman, first in St. Marys and then in Eastman. I did a tour in the Army including service in Vietnam. Ole Henry has been there throughout all that.”
Ronnie and Dawn Strickland, grandson and granddaughter-in-law of Henry and Ella Strickland, submitted the application to have Ole Henry certified.
“It is a grand old oak tree and it has been a part of our family’s life for as long as I can remember,” said Ronnie Strickland.
“We just wanted to have it officially recognized,” said Dawn Strickland.
Henry and Ella Strickland moved to the place around 1954 and farmed the land until retiring in 1970. Mr. Strickland lived there until his death in 1975.
In 1977, Ella Strickland moved to St. Marys to live near her children.
The Strickland family has returned each year for a reunion at the Otter Creek Community Center in Pierce County. The grand finale to the gathering is to travel over to the farm to visit with and take pictures of Ole Henry the oak tree.