Historic Banning Mills, located in the beautiful Snake Creek Gorge, holds an enormous amount of history and unique natural features. When some of our oldest and most beloved trees fell over the years due to old age and storms, we decided that instead of letting them rot in the woods, we would let them continue to tell of the history and nature they witnessed over hundreds of years in the form of Legacy Tree Carvings. Here are their stories.
Red Oak Legacy Tree
Under optimal conditions and full sun, the northern red oak is a deciduous and fast-growing tree with beautiful dark red leaves in the fall. The Red Oak can reach 140 feet tall and live over 400 years.
To estimate how old a Red Oak Tree is, consider the formula used by park Service staff and found in the publication of the International Society of Arboriculture as follows:
Figure the tree’s circumference, in inches, by measuring the trunk 4.5 feet above the ground. Divide this number by pi, roughly 3.14, to get the diameter. For a red oak, multiply the diameter by 3.5. The result is the approximate age in years. Competition from other surrounding trees, droughts, and human interaction with the tree such as hanging swings on the tree and damage will slow the growth rate of trees so the tree could be older than the estimate.
This Red Oak had a 23-foot circumference x 12 inches for 276 inches divided by 3.14 which equals 87 x 3.5 and gives this tree an estimated age of over 325 years.
This red oak tree was called the Village Oak and once stood in the middle of one section of the mill village complex. The mill workers built their homes around this tree because of the huge canopy spread it had which gave shade in the summer. There were about 15 homes built near or surrounding it. The red oak would have been around 200 years old by this time. With its wide canopy and tall height, he was a superior looking fellow. In January of 2020, the tree did fall during a severe storm. it broke our hearts to see our stately gentleman down.
We did not want him just to rot in place and be forgotten, so we decided to create a legacy tree carving depicting a history timeline of Banning and display it on part of the tree trunk. Now, the Village Oak can show some of the amazing history of Banning Mills.
James Denkins, Master Chainsaw wood sculptor and Chap Nelson were contracted to create the history time line on the Legacy Tree.
James Denkins has been creating works of art for over 20 years. His specialties include realistic humans and caricatures. He is known for his attention to detail and lifelike proportions. His website is www.denkins.net
Chap Nelson organizes an annual chainsaw carving event in Gray, Georgia called Chaptacular, it is the largest such event in North America.
Our carvers arrived on November 10th, 2020, and finished the Legacy Tree on November 15th! This tree trunk weighed over 22,000 lbs. and needed to be moved very carefully and slowly.
White Oak Legacy Tree
When we lost this ancient white oak (Over 400 years old: Feb 2021) in another high windstorm, we were pretty heartbroken. The white oak was bigger than the red oak (which now has our historic timeline carved on it). The oak was almost 24 feet in circumference and over 110 feet tall. The canopy was over 120-130 feet in diameter.
It was completely hollow inside when it fell. It’s time to fall had come. Not wanting this beautiful ancient tree to rot in the forest, it was decided to do a different type of carving on it: to preserve it so others could see and enjoy. Since we already had a carved timeline, we decided to carve indigenous species of animals located on site. Historic Banning Mills is not only beautiful and historic, but the Snake Creek Gorge is uniquely diverse in its eco-system of flora and fauna.
Part of the stump was removed, relocated and a carving of a zipliner completed. Then, taking another part of the stump, a whimsical woodland theme was carved.
The stump was almost completely hollow inside, so it was difficult at best to have enough wood to work with. The long part of the tree with the animal carvings was cut 20 feet up from the stump before finding solid wood.
We once again enlisted the renowned James Denkins and Chap Nelson team who had already done our timeline legacy tree carving. They were very enthusiastic to do the second project here at Banning Mills. The project was completed in November of 2021. All the animal carvings represent animal species that live on site and have been seen by staff and guests. Yes, even the cougar and black bear!
Chief Tomochichi Carving
Our newest addition to our legacy tree carvings is this fabulous depiction of Chief Tomochichi!
Chief Tomochichi was the principal mediator for the Creek Indian (Muscogee) Nation and British colonists. His assistance in the birth of the state of Georgia was indispensable.
He was born in Georgia near present day Savannah. The Creeks were the largest and most powerful of the five civilized tribes, at that time. Their territories ranged from Georgia, Alabama and into Florida. They did brisk trade with the English and Spanish with deer skins as the most valuable of the trade commodities.
Chief Tomochichi broke away from the Creek Indians around 1728 and formed his own tribe- the Yamacraw. They settled near the current day Savannah area and the tribe was close to 200 people at that time.
He was most noted for mediating between the Creek Indian nation and Oglethorpe. He used an interpreter named Mary Musgrove, whose father was English and mother a Creek Indian. He accompanied Oglethorpe to England and visited with many dignitaries and King George. He assisted Oglethorpe with trade, settlements and determining the boundaries of Georgia. He also worked with Ben Ingham to open a Christian school for his tribe in 1736.
Chief Tomochichi had one adopted son, named Toahahwi (Toonahowi).
With his death, at 95 years old, some of Chief Tomochichi’s words were
“Remember the kindness of King George to us and remain friends forever”
Visit with the Legacy Trees and let them tell you their story then explore the beauty of Snake Creek Gorge hiking our trails, zipping through the trees on our world record zip line canopy tours, riding horses on our historic trails, kayaking the Chattahoochee, or riding the trails on our unique Eco-Spider ATVs! Stay the night in a tree house for a relaxing escape. We also host Birds of Prey nature shows. So much to do!