An 1830 map of Whitehall Plantation shows a sandy road gently curving through a grove of live oak trees, leading to a lodge overlooking the Savannah River. Much has changed since then.
The plantation is now part of the Georgia Port Authority’s Garden City Terminal, a high-tech, high-volume facility marked by swirling truck traffic and towering powerful cranes. But some reminders still stand.
A dozen or so live oaks remain from that grove. Most of them are more than 200 years old. One dates back to 1649 or so. Its trunk diameter is roughly 7.5 feet and its canopy diameter some 146 feet. Many of its branches curve gracefully and stretch almost to the ground.
Shannon Baughman of Bartlett Tree Experts has monitored and treated these live oaks for the GPA for years. The 1649 tree “is substantially better now” than it was six or seven years ago, said Baughman. All the underbrush has been cleared, and it’s on an annual fertilizer program. It even has lightning protection, a copper wire that runs its length and ends at a buried grounding rod.
Under that canopy of care, this small stretch once again reflects the era when Whitehall had “the reputation of being one of the most beautiful plantation sites on the river.” To protect that, the GPA, on Arbor Day of 2013, announced that it had placed the live oaks under protective governance in perpetuity.
So now, if you stand at the trunk of the 1649 tree and look back, a portion of Whitehall Plantation’s stately, old oak allée, and its sandy passage, are still vibrant and visible. And that won’t change.
Sources: “Images of America: Savannah River Plantations, Photographs from the Collection of the Georgia Historical Society,” by Frank T. Wheeler; “Whitehall Plantation,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 2 (June 1942), pp. 129-155, by the Savannah Unit, Georgia Writers’ Project, Works Progress Administration in Georgia; gaports.com; savannahnow.com.