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  • Writer's pictureKaren Terhune Duncan

Preserving History

In 2020 I posted our story, “Old Glory” about taking down the enormous southern magnolia in our front yard, replacing it with a flagpole. Now, more than a year later, we are still enjoying the flag and pole, as the headliner in our front yard. However, there’s a little bit more to the story.

We wanted to preserve some part of the tree. Some sort of memento to a tree that has been on our property long before our house was built. As the tree came down, we asked for a slab to be cut. It was very heavy and very pretty.

Our tree was original to property, predating 1993, the year our house was built. The tree removal firm estimated about 80 years. We soon discovered they were way off the mark. We knew who to call ~ woodworker extraordinaire, artist unparalleled, our island friend, Doug McCulloch. He’d work his magic.

Mature southern magnolia trees often begin to lose limbs as they age. That is what happened to ours. It was nearly 80 feet tall and had very few blooming limbs remaining. Doug McC began to dry out our slab, a process that took 11 months. As he planed and sanded the piece, he counted the rings. And as near as we can tell this tree was closer to 150 years old! That puts it seeding at about 1870! 1870!

After the Civil War from the late 1870s to the 1940s, nothing much happened on Skidaway Island. Nature, of course, was as busy as ever. Birds, playful otters, the drowsy alligators, and the timid deer roamed unmolested by human beings until the island's isolation and sparse habitation made it ideal for a new kind of invaders...bootleggers who brewed 'white lightening' in improvised stills deep in these piney woods until prohibition was lifted. I like to think there was some of that going on around our magnolia.

And in 1940, Union Camp began harvesting the island's pulpwood. In the early 1970s, Union Camp struck a deal with the state; 500 acres for a state park in exchange for a bridge. Union Camp bought Branigar (Union Camp) and The Landings was born.

In Doug McC’s wood shop.

When Doug McC called to say the wood was looking very good, he noted the various colors were giving nice character to the wood. And that the bark was holding. A crack had developed, which is common with magnolia, but we liked it. He filled it perfectly. We decided to turn it into a charcuterie board.

When he delivered the finished piece to us, we were thrilled. It measures 30” across.

It now rests on the center of our living room coffee table. Just outside the front door it stood for 150 years.

The Doug's admiring the work.

And since then, it’s been center stage for a few parties. Pretty special history.

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