Storm damage, decay threaten historic live oak

Christina Elmore/Staff A live oak on the property of Cynthia and Robert Mays would require about $6,000 to restore. The tree, which could be 500 years old, has structural damage from storms, heavy moss and decay.

A live oak in West Ashley that could be 500 years old stood tall through war and revolution, but storm damage is decaying the tree to the point where its history could be lost forever.

The tree is part of what used to be a grand avenue of oaks on Geddes Hall Plantation.

Many other trees on the land were cut down to make way for subdivisions before ordinances could be passed to protect them.

The oak now stands on the property of Robert and Cynthia Mays on Overdell Drive.

Cynthia Mays said she grew up with the tree and the house that it shadows. The house was built by her grandfather’s first cousin. She and her husband purchased it in 2011.

She said the tree suffered major damage and broken limbs during a tornado in 1950, Hurricane Gracie in 1959, Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and other storms.

With time, it began to lean closer and closer to the ground. After hearing a loud “boom” and discovering a large hole on the verge of hollowing out the tree, Mays decided to take action before it was too late.

“We don’t want anything happening to this tree now that we’re the caretakers of it,” Mays said.

Mays consulted arborist P.O. Mead of Mead’s Tree Service to find out what needs to be done.

Mead said the live oak used to have a double trunk and the hole Mays discovered is the result of structural damage from the trunk splitting. The tree is weighed down by moss that needs to be cleared.

Saving the oak also would require the use of root stimulants to help strengthen its foundation.

Mead estimates that the process would cost around $6,000.

Mays hopes to rally community support to restore what she called “a little piece of Charleston history.”

“(Mays) is right in that no one really can own a tree. It’s a part of the community and all the people that drive by are used to seeing it. She’s right to make sure that it’s maintained,” Mead said.

Mead said he will do all that he can to help Mays save the live oak.

“I just want to preserve history. I don’t want this tree to fall over and die,” Mays said. “I want little kids to keep coming by to see it, and I want the Girl Scout troops to keep driving by to take pictures with it.

“People see this tree and they’re in awe of it. It’s our history here in South Carolina. It’s one of those hidden secrets,” Mays said.

To help save the Geddes Hall Plantation live oak, contact Mays at 478-2281.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908.