History: Bicentennial Oak
The Bicentennial Oak is the oldest tree on campus and one of the three largest trees. Photo by Steve Baskauf licensed as CC0
The Bicentennial Oak is the only tree in the arboretum to predate the university, it is estimated to be at least over 250 years old. In the past, it was one of the only trees located on the barren hill next to Old Central, the original residence of Bishop McTyeire.
Plaque describing the history of Old Central
The large tree at the right of the photo is the Bicentennial Oak. This photo, taken between 1928 and 1936, faces the northwest. The old Kissam Hall (now Alumni Lawn) is visible in the distance. Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives photo archives.
The Bicentennial Oak and other large trees in the area narrowly escaped destruction in the 1960’s. In 1969, the university planned a new social sciences complex in the center of the old campus. In addition to the demolition of Benson and Old Central, many of the large trees in the area between Rand and Garland Halls would be felled. A student, Julie Lewis, wrote an eloquent letter to Chancellor Heard on the importance of natural areas to the campus atmosphere. In character with the turbulent times, a group of students organized themselves as the Save Open Space (SOS) Committee to oppose the project. Chancellor Heard ordered stakes to be placed to show what space and which trees would be sacrificed. Opposition to the project was great and funding was low. As a result, the chancellor cancelled the project.1 2
The large tree at the right of the photo is the Bicentennial Oak. This photo, taken between 1928 and 1936, faces the northwest. The old Kissam Hall (now Alumni Lawn) is visible in the distance.
The Bicentennial Oak is undoubtedly the most famous tree on Vanderbilt campus and the only one that has its own plaque on the ground in front of it. It has been recognized as over 200 years old and is described on p. 38 of The Trees of Vanderbilt.
The Bicentennial Oak was recognized by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council as a landmark tree in 2016.
Return to the historical tree tour page for the Bicentennial oak 2-691.
1 McGaw, Robert A. 1978. The Vanderbilt Campus: A Pictorial History, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, pp. 137-8.
2 Hogge, Sharon. 1998. The Real Dirt: A History of the Vanderbilt Garden Club for Campus Beautification, The Vanderbilt Garden Club, Nashville, p. 60.