O'Brien Oak R.I.P.

Historical Period: Colonial Texas (1821-1835)
Historical Topic: Frontier Settlements, Saved From the Axe
Species: Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
County: Jefferson
Public Access: No longer applicable; tree is dead

For more than a century, this towering live oak, which overlooked the Neches River Turning Basin, was a living memorial to Beaumont's colorful past.

Sometime in the early 1800s, this tree, then only a seedling, was brought from the Boumstead Place on Village Creek by one of the area's first settlers, Captain Cave Johnson. He planted the switch near his cabin door. It was destined to grow into a huge and much loved landmark, a tree under whose sheltering limbs children would play and early courts would convene.

About the time Captain Johnson planted his live oak switch, another of Texas' adopted sons, George W. O'Brien, was born in Abbeville, Louisiana. At the age of 17 years, O'Brien came to Galveston. In 1852 he moved to Beaumont, which was his home for the rest of his life.

Captain O'Brien had become one of the most esteemed and widely known citizens of south Texas when he purchased the Johnson property in 1880. By then this oak was almost three feet in diameter, and it marked the beginning of “Lover's Lane,” a quiet, picturesque walk along the river.

According to local tradition, the first court of law in Jefferson County was convened under its branches, and early civil and criminal cases were tried in its shade.

The oak bore the name of the family largely responsible for its continued existence. (At least once, when it showed signs of dying, Captain O'Brien “doctored” it back to health.) When the City of Beaumont purchased the O'Brien property in 1923 to open a street, the deed stipulated that sufficient land be left around the tree to preserve it for its lifetime.

In 1966, the tree was designated a Texas historical landmark. In March 1975 the venerable old oak was struck by lightning, a blow from which it never recovered in spite of all that tree surgeons did to save it. The end came when city crews felled the giant oak November 29, 1978. Pieces of the tree were given to O'Brien decendants. An acorn from the tree, planted during World War II, has grown into a tree that now shades the Beaumont home of the late George W. O'Brien's grandson.

Site of the O’Brien Oak was between Blanchette and Emmett Streets in the middle of Sabine Pass Street, in Beaumont.