Pioneer Oak R.I.P.

Historical Period: Early Statehood (1845-1861)
Historical Topic: County Courthouses, Law & Order
Species: Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
County: Henderson
Public Access: No longer applicable; tree is dead

This magnificent Southern red oak is a sister to the oak under which District Judge O. M. Roberts convened the first session of the Third Judicial Court, October 2, 1850. At the close of the first day of that historic session, Judge Roberts had the following statement entered in the records: “This court is being held under the shade of an oak tree near the center of the public square in Athens, which public authorities are requested to preserve as a memorial to the habits of the early Texans.”

In 1886, the courthouse was destroyed by a fire, which also killed the historic oak. Citizens in Athens fashioned from one of the limbs a walking stick with a golden head and presented it to Judge Roberts, who by that time was Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. When Roberts became governor of Texas, he presented the cane to the Texas Archives, where it is today.

The 117th anniversary of that first district court session was commemorated October 2, 1967, when District Court Judge Wayne Lawrence convened his court under the Pioneer Oak to dedicate a historic marker designating this tree as the “Pioneer Oak” and thus perpetuated Judge Roberts' “memorial to the early Texans.”

The age of this giant was estimated at 320 years in 1997 upon its death and removal following road expansion.

The tree was located a block east of the Henderson County Courthouse, on the north side of East Corsicana Street, in Athens.