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The Tree Might Be Gone but the Memories Are Not

The Maclay Oak Tree Was Cut Down

Photo by Maclay School

Maclay has cut away its roots. The Maclay Oak Tree, a longstanding symbol of the school, was cut down and uprooted during Thanksgiving break. 

For centuries, the Maclay Oak has stood as a sentinel atop what historical maps designate as Oak Knoll. This majestic tree, with its countless rings bearing witness to the passage of time, has been a defining feature of the Tallahassee landscape, particularly for Maclay School, which has proudly called it a cornerstone for 55 years. The Oak Tree is right in the front of the school between the softball field and the Beck Family Innovation Center (BFIC). Underneath the tree are picnic tables where many students eat lunch and in front of the tree are instruments for everyone to play. The enduring legacy of the Maclay Oak has been a source of pride and a cherished backdrop for generations of students. Its commanding presence atop the highest point in the area made it not only a hallmark but a symbol of strength and resilience. However, the recent encounter with Hurricane Idalia left an indelible mark on our beloved oak.

“The last hurricane blew it [the tree] over,” upper school Academic Dean Angela Croston said. “The roots had been damaged and it was falling over, so it became a safety issue at that point.”

The Maclay Oak endeared itself to generations as its branches extended low to the ground, creating a natural playground for students of all ages. For many years, it played a crucial role in the lives of lower school students, who found joy in playing amid the branches. Middle schoolers explored and climbed the low-hanging limbs and played on the instruments surrounding the oak, and upper school students sought refuge beneath its ample shade as they navigated the challenges of burgeoning adulthood. Tragically, the recent storm dealt a severe blow to the Maclay Oak, causing significant damage. The once-majestic tree now rests on its own branches, a poignant sight that symbolizes the toll the elements have taken. A widening crack at the base has compromised the structural integrity, rendering the beloved oak unstable.

“After receiving multiple recommendations from local arborists, it [was] clear we must retire our Maclay Oak as it [has become] unstable and will only become more so as time passes,” upper school Headmaster James Milford said.

The oak was blocked off for a month as arborists slowly cut down limbs. Over break, the school cut down the whole tree, as well as pulled up the roots. Now there's an empty space where the tree used to be.

“Honestly I am very sad [about the oak tree being removed],” Junior Zac Scovotto said. “Freshman year I used to always sit during lunch with all my friends, and I feel like it was a big part of Maclay history being here for so long. Now that it’s removed, it just leaves a big empty spot on campus.”

The absence of the Maclay Oak has left a void not only in the physical landscape of our campus but also in the daily routines of students. The once-popular gathering spot, where students would sit under the tree and enjoy their lunches, has now become a noticeable emptiness. This has prompted a shift in habits, with some students choosing to venture off-campus for their breaks, while others seek alternative areas for relaxation.

“We did save about 40 saplings that we have potted and we’re trying to just keep those alive and regrow them over time just to give us some options,” Milford said.

Maclay is planning on replanting the saplings that were recovered from the 250 year old tree to pay homage to the legacy of the Maclay Oak Tree. The decision regarding what will fill this space is still under consideration by the Maclay community. The deliberation reflects the significance of the Maclay Oak and the desire to choose a fitting replacement or enhancement that respects its legacy.

As the process unfolds, students and staff alike are adapting to the new landscape, finding new spots to gather and create connections. While the loss of the Maclay Oak is deeply felt, it also presents an opportunity for the community to come together, share ideas, and actively participate in shaping the future of this prominent area on campus. The transformation of this space will undoubtedly become part of the ongoing story of Maclay, weaving the old with the new and ensuring that the spirit of community and growth endures.


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Andy Poll

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