You cant drive through McClellanville without noticing the landmark Deerhead Oak on a cleared lot at the corner of Pinckney Street and Oak Street. The tree is easily the most photographed attraction in town and everyone growing up in McClellanville has climbed up into its cradling arms at least once. The town is blessed with hundreds of ancient live oaks, their limbs draped with Spanish moss, but the Deerhead Oak holds a special place in everyones hearts.
The Deerhead Oak is both larger in circumference, 30.6 feet, and height, 67 feet, than the famed Angel Oak on Johns Island, SC estimated by some to be more than 1500 years old and thought to be the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi River. Of course, it is hard to estimate the age of these ancient trees, which predate the discovery of America by the Europeans, because boring samples are not reliable due to a tendency for the live oaks heart wood to rot.
It takes some creativity to see the deer head, with its knobby eyes and nose and long antler branches, but no matter if you cant. The value in the tree comes not from its likeness to an animal, but from its beauty and history.
One thing is for sure, the Deerhead Oak was well established when it first saw the founding fathers of what would become the village. McClellanvilles very first store was built in the shade of the tree by William P. Beckman. But even before the European settlers, the Deerhead Oak was probably climbed by the local Seewee Indians for hundreds of years.
The oak tree has long been known as a symbol of strength and triumph, so what better image to use to represent the community of McClellanville. The village has a tight-knit community which pulls together in good times and in bad. Like the mighty oak, McClellanvilles family tree has large long limbs that intertwine with each other. Our roots grow deep in the rich coastal soil and our history reaches back to the founding of this country.
On May 10th, 2008 the Deerhead Oak was dedicated as South Carolinas 2007 Heritage Tree of the Year. The McClellanville Tree Committee sponsored the event held in the shady branches of the towns landmark live oak at the corner of Oak Street and Pinckney Street. A plaque commemorating Deerhead Oak as the Heritage Tree for 2007 was unveiled as well as a second plaque honoring the Beckman family (the owners of the land on which Deerhead Oak rests) for their gracious contribution to McClellanvilles greenspace and the towns history.
Ed Farnworth, of the Tree Committee, made introductions and then Bud Hill, director of the Village Museum, spoke about the history of the tree. Danny Burbage, the Vice President of the SC Urban and Community Forestry Council, officially bestowed the honor to the Deerhead Oak. Mrs. Anne Beckman Rumer spoke about her familys history and said that the land surrounding the Deerhead Oak would remain a public greenspace for the enjoyment of the town that she loves so dearly. Jimmy McClellan read the following excerpt from his poem The Voice of the Deer Head Tree:
A giant oak stands in the town,
Its known as the Deer Head Tree.
Surely the oldest living thing
Within our community.
For centuries rooted in place,
Watching the seasons pass.
No telling just how old it is,
Or how long yet it may last.
I sometimes wonder if this old tree
Had senses and wit ad tongue,
What stories it might tell us,
Of events since it was young.
~By James O. McClellan
Related Article: Deerhead Oak Rooted Deeply in Community
The plaque to honor McClellanville’s “Deerhead Oak”is wonderful. It’s a well deserved honor for another of the Lowcountry’s grand old Live Oaks. These ancient Old Oaks (Deerhead Oak, Angel Oak, Middleton Oak, Washington Oak…) are the heart and soul of our sense of place in the South.